By Andrew Brown
There is an age difference of several decades between them, but the bond between the participants of this Canberra playgroup couldn’t be stronger.
Run by Playgroups ACT every Monday out of the Mirinjani aged care facility in Weston, the intergenerational initiative aims to bring some of Canberra’s youngest and oldest residents together for play time, singing, stories and even visits from animals.
Playgroups ACT development and support worker Chandani Ramasundara said there was a real connection between the participants.
“There’s a lot of families here in Canberra who don’t have their grandparents with them, so it’s a good opportunity for children to play with the residents at Mirinjani,” Ms Ramasundara said.
“A lot of the people who are very isolated have created amazing bonds.”
Norma Sumner, a care services worker at Mirinjani, said the program had helped to reduce social isolation for its elderly residents.
“There are definitely health benefits. Some of the residents rarely come out of their rooms, and yet you see them out and about playing with the kids on playgroup day,” Ms Sumner said.
“For many, it helps them relive their memories of when their own kids were growing up. It’s wonderful to see.”
The health benefits of intergenerational playgroups aren’t limited to the Canberra program.
A 2014 Australian study found elderly residents who took part in similar programs had higher levels of self-esteem, increased happiness, more active participation in the community and an increase in dignity for those living with dementia.
Mirinjani resident Judy Baker has lived at the aged care facility for more than two years and said the intergenerational playgroup was the highlight of her week.
“It’s the best day of the week, as far as I’m concerned,” Mrs Baker said.
“I don’t have any grandchildren of my own, but when all the kiddies are here, it’s just lovely.”
Such is the connection between the generations, Mrs Baker still speaks every week with some of the children who once attended the program but now live interstate.
“There were twins who came here from when they were just four-months-old, and they left before Christmas to go and live in Brisbane,” Mrs Baker said.
“Every Monday they still speak to me over FaceTime and they blow kisses to me.”
The program in Weston is one of two intergenerational playgroups in the ACT, with three new playgroups to start in coming weeks.
Before Ms Ramasundara was helping to run the program, she was a participant with her own child.
She said in the more than two years it had been operating, the program had gone from strength to strength.
“The bond between the generations is very important, and there’s a lot of new mums who get a lot of parenting advice from the older generations,” she said.
“It really does feel like a family.”