Each week, Rowena Long brings her toddler and baby boys to an unusual kind of playgroup.
At an aged care facility in Brisbane, her children spend their time playing games, interacting and singing with the older Australians who live there.
Ms Long said the weekly appointment was a chance for her sons to learn from their elders.
“When we first joined I just wanted my boys to just have the ability to interact with ease with older people,” Ms Long said.
“But now the reason we keep coming back is just those connections that I see everyday with them.
“My boys walk into playgroup and suddenly they’ve got an instant band of 10 great grandparents who all welcome them with joy and celebrate when they learn new tricks.”
The intergenerational playgroup is not entirely new.
But now researchers are evaluating the benefits of taking that a few steps further — combining child care and aged care as a dual community service model that operates on one campus.
Professor Anneke Fitzgerald from Griffith University said the psychological benefits of this model had already been proven through international studies.
Her team will look at the economic effects and how the model can help manage Australia’s aging population.
“[Part of our research] is about workforce and what implications such an intergenerational model might have on workforce and the development of new careers,” Professor Fitzgerald said.
“[Another] arm is the effects upon what we know about education — we know very little about how we can sustain the learning in people who have possible cognitive decline.”
Professor Fitzgerald’s team has secured Federal Government funding to conduct trials of the model, which will also look at the inverse — elderly Australians visiting childcare centres.
“Some of the policies and ways that aged care and child care are operationalised need to move with the times,” she said.
“What we are saying is that we could add to [the current system] with innovative models and in a way hoping we are going to help make Australia more age-friendly.”
‘It brings back memories of your own life’
Stephen Alderman — chief executive of Playgroup Queensland, which is involved in this pilot program — said education was a focus.
“One of the things we concentrate on is learning through play, that parents and carers are the first teachers and their primary teachers,” Mr Alderman said.
Wendy Lawrence works at the Brisbane facility and recently set up the pilot program to give older people more self esteem and freedom, she said.
“It’s been really interesting because when older people come into aged care centres they can lose a lot of self esteem, freedom and control, and those things are so valuable for people of all ages,” Ms Lawrence said.
“Since we started to do playgroup, I’ve seen a change. They feel like they’re giving back.
“They’re working with these little people, they’re showing them how to do things, so they’re feeling like they’re helping and creating these social connections as well —it’s really magical.”
She said residents were transformed and some had even have started talking again.
“I think that going forward, particularly with the wave of baby boomers that are about to hit our shores, things will have to change, and they will demand it.”
It has been a rewarding experience for Gwen Hart, who has lived at the Brisbane centre since March.
“This is special fun because it brings back memories of your own life with children,” Ms Hart said.
“And that’s treasured. You’ll have me crying in a minute.”
Originally published here: