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We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.

With this in mind, Helping Hand Residential Care in North Adelaide is proving that imagination is ageless. By connecting some of our state’s oldest and youngest residents in a weekly intergenerational playgroup, Helping Hand in partnership with Playgroup SA brings together generations, supporting meaningful interactions between the young and the young at heart (but slightly older in other places) through singing, craft, playtime and stories.

The Learning Tree Playgroup connects three generations (elders, parents and children), bolstering the proverbial village it takes to raise a child, while also bringing joy and good old-fashioned fun and laughter to elderly residents living in aged care, as well as the unconditional love that only a child can give. The age difference of decades between them is but a wrinkle in time, with the experience enriching the lives of everyone involved. We chat with Julie from Helping Hand about how it all works.

What sort of activities do the children and residents take part in at the Intergenerational Playgroup?

The group takes part in a range of activities each week, including arts and crafts, interactive activities like ball games, and sing-a-longs.

Sing-a-longs are an important part of our playgroup; we tend to focus on ‘older’ more ‘traditional’ nursery rhymes because a lot of residents are aged 90-plus, but we also sing modern songs from groups like The Wiggles. For story time, we let the children pick a book and a resident will read it, followed by morning tea.

Our activities are focused on being easy to achieve, so that toddlers and those living with dementia, for example, can successfully complete them, and have fun while they’re doing it!

What makes it such a great experience for the residents?

It brings families and children into Helping Hand and provides fun and playful engagement for both the young and the young at heart. It encourages friendships across generations, it’s great to see how the children and residents are drawn to each other and take part in activities together without needing much conversation. It can help residents create social connections and feelings of inclusion by giving them an opportunity to engage with the wider community.

What sort of feedback do you get from parents?

Parents have commented the playgroup has brought their children out of their shell and made them more confident around other children and adults. For parents, there’s always something new to learn from older generations. In some instances, the parents don’t have their own parents (their children’s grandparents) or other family members in Adelaide, so it’s a great way for them to interact with an older generation. For the children, it’s an exciting and fun experience to play with a whole new group of people with a different perspective on life.

What sort of feedback do you get from residents?

The residents look forward to seeing the children each week and have developed close relationships with them. It can help increase their self-esteem and prompts joy and happiness; interacting with the children really does lift their spirits. Some residents may not have grandchildren, or have grandchildren nearby, so it’s good for them to experience the joy children bring via the playgroup.

Why would you encourage parents to attend?

It’s a great community experience, enriching the lives of the young and the elderly. It’s also a great way to meet other families. We find parents value the parenting knowledge and experience of our residents and in turn, our residents cherish having children in their lives.

Do you do any other sort of events that encourage children and the elderly to interact?

At Helping Hand North Adelaide, children from nearby kindergartens, primary and secondary schools participate in intergenerational activities throughout the year. Primary students are currently completing a history project involving our residents, speaking to them about their lives and writing their life stories to present back to them. Students have also painted portraits of our residents and completed other art projects with them. Year 10 and 11 students are also a regular feature at Helping Hand and take part in work experience and placements with our lifestyle team.

Daphne

Age: 80

Favourite thing about play time with the children?

I just love being around the little ones, I always have. They make me smile.

What have they taught you?

I think they remind me to have fun and not to take things too seriously.

What have you taught them?

They’re very bright, I think they teach me more! But I do like sharing stories with them and trying to teach them things that way.

Myra

Age: 90

Favourite thing about play time with the children?

I love seeing their little personalities develop and how they come out of their shell.

What have they taught you?

I think modern children often seem to be 12 months going on five – and I mean that in a good way. They seem so advanced in the ways in which they play and the things they know, just watching them even doing seemingly little, you learn so much.

What have you taught them?

I try and entertain them and they remind me to laugh. I think they want to do so much at once, I also tell them that not everything can be done at one time, that they should be patient.

Franco

Age: 2

What do you like about playing with the residents?

Painting and playing with Play-Doh.

What have they taught you?

That you don’t need to talk much to have a great time.

What have you taught them?

Playing is fun!

Darcy

What do you like about playing with the residents?

Colouring in.

What have they taught you?

That sitting still and reading and singing is fun!

What have you taught them?

It’s fun to be silly!

The Learning Tree Playgroup

Who: Between 12 and 16 Helping Hand North Adelaide elderly residents, and up to 10 children with their parent or caregiver. Suited to kiddos aged from birth to age 5
When: Every Wednesday morning, during school terms, between 10:30am and 12pm
Where: Helping Hand North Adelaide. No bookings required
How: Contact Julie Kahl at Helping Hand on 8224 7814 for more information
For more information on intergenerational playgroups in your area head to playgroupsa.com.au