The peak body for NSW playgroups has teamed up with care provider Anglicare to create a virtual intergenerational play program for children under six and aged care facility residents.

Running since April 2021, the Timeless Play: Connects program brings together children and elderly residents for weekly Ipad-based play programs that can include anything from creative projects, show & tell and storytelling to crazy hair, pyjama days and dress up parties.

The program aims to improve the overall mental health and digital literacy of the older participants, while offering valuable social interaction, learning and play experiences for the children and parents involved.

The ground-breaking concept has evolved from the intergenerational in-person groups run by not-for-profit organisation Playgroup NSW over the last eight years. 

Everyone in Australia has had to pivot over the last year and it was very important for us to explore new and future-proofed ways to create rich learning experiences and connections that adapted to public safety and social restrictions,” said Nadene Lee, CEO, Playgroup NSW.

“The involvement of technology also extends accessibility to participants with mobility or travel issues”.

Mike Sheedy, Head of Mental Health at Anglicare said: “Mental ill health affects around one in five Australians in most years. However, Anglicare’s clients are reporting that due to COVID-19, they are feeling more anxious, down and disconnected from friends and family than usual.”

Older people are particularly affected with loss of physical contact from close family and friends during times of lockdown, and often for a time after lockdown ends. 

“The resulting isolation and loneliness experienced is leading to elevated depression levels for some older people – depression levels that are higher than those experienced by middle aged and younger people.

“Innovative programs such as Timeless Play: Connects are much needed – especially in our ‘new normal’. 

“Timeless Play helps to directly address social isolation and loneliness of older people by linking them through technology with playgroups of young children and their carers. Older people connected with younger people in this way are less likely to experience anxiety and depression as a result. 

The program also has benefits for the younger people who participate.”

The University of Wollongong is currently evaluating the effectiveness of the digital model for the benefits of Intergenerational Play including enhanced learning, cognition, and greater social cohesion.

Viaan enjoys fun play 
with older people

Shilpa, who with her four-year-old son Viaan plays with older friends Lyell and Beryl, joined the program so her son could develop good relationships with the older generation, and has seen his confidence grow as well as his ability to empathise.

“There is much to learn from their wisdom, life experiences and patience”, Shilpa says.

His grandparents are back in India, so I see this playgroup as a good opportunity for him to connect with older people. 

“We also use the ideas learnt from this session in his weekly video calls with his grandparents for him to have a better interaction and a healthier relationship with them”.

Lyell Burrow, aged 81 from Narrabeen, is a father of 9 and grandfather to 11, and jumped at the chance to be involved. 

Just seeing the expressions on the children’s faces, and how they change as people spoke and showed them things was great,” Lyell said.

“All the kids seemed to be involved and it’s great to interact with children from other areas, as well as the opportunity to learn a little bit about the technology involved. Just make sure your hearing aid is up loud!”

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