The “deep and meaningfuls” of intergenerational playgroups

 I will never forget the first time at a playgroup when a tired baby cried. 

The baby’s mum was worried that the sound would bother the senior members of the group. Several of the senior members had memory difficulties and high care needs and we weren’t sure how they were going to react.  

However, the cries and gurgles seemed to awaken wonder and bring back happy memories; some reacted as if they were hearing the most precious sound in the world! Memories of their own children when they were young came flooding back to them and before we knew it, we had a few of the elderly members helping to push the stroller gently to and fro to try settle the baby into his morning nap. 

I love that these groups have heart. I think of it as the “deep and meaningfuls” of intergenerational interactions. 

At Playgroup WA we are privileged to hear people speak from the heart about their intergenerational experience. Both young and older members at times comment on the authenticity and acceptance that they find in being apart of an intergenerational group.  

Senior members of the playgroup bring life experience and they absolutely love it when the children and families arrive. These members have the beautiful gift of TIME: time to look and enjoy the children’s achievements and to join in activities with full attention, without the other responsibilities and distractions that parents and carers are juggling. There is also the nurturing of respect and understanding.  

It’s all about the special connections between the families and the seniors. 

A special memory that stands out for me was at Aegis Shawford Lodge. Graeme, one of the elderly gentlemen, and a young boy named Harry,  were building Duplo structures together. When it was time for morning tea, Harry’s mum and one of the aged care staff members decided not to interrupt Graeme and Harry and instead placed some morning tea next to them so that they could keep playing,  

The duo worked together for over an hour. Graeme and Harry were so absorbed in their creation that no one wanted to break the spell. It was truly one of those magic moments. Many of the other staff passing by even paused for a moment to enjoy the wonderful sight of old and young building and playing together.  

Another story that I remember fondly involved a senior that moved into an aged care facility following a stroke. He was younger than the other residents and often spent most of his days in his room. He learnt about the playgroup that was being held within the facility and to the surprise of the staff, he decided to come out of his room one day and join in. 

After that he continued to go to playgroup every week and became very interactive with the families and had a great time playing with all the kids. He even started to do story time at the end of each session. It was wonderful to see how playgroup had helped him. 

One day he even told everyone that he was excited to be expecting his second great-grandchild who was due on his birthday. It was truly a touching moment as we could see how much more comfortable he was in sharing this news and how much more confident and connected he was feeling with all the families in the group.  

Everyone benefits from being a part of an intergenerational playgroup. 

It’s quite common for many people in WA to not live close to their family and quite often live away from their hometowns. 

At playgroup we also meet army and navy families and living in a big state can mean it can be hard to keep close to family even if they do live somewhere in WA! Some seniors may not live close to any family nor have young family around.  

Being part of an intergenerational playgroup has been really beneficial for these people as many of the families who contact us have young children growing up without grandparent figures in their lives and are seeking out ways for their children to connect and be comfortable with all ages and not miss out on the grandparent generation.  

Another really special part of being involved with these playgroups has been seeing how they can make seniors feel valued and connected. Barbara’s story is a great example of this.  

Barbara’s story   

Barbara is a confident, accomplished 90-something year old with a background in teaching. However she was worried that if the occasion arose, she would need to ‘prove herself’ to the younger generation. 
But after having success with a project involving high school students, Barbara was asked to co-lead an intergenerational playgroup. 

She found the interaction with babies and young children a truly enlightening experience and has described with delight how marvelous an opportunity it is to be part of playgroup where babies and young children see, meet and respond to you without discrimination”. 

Families and young children also get a huge amount out of attending intergenerational playgroups. They enjoy getting to know the seniors and seeing the seniors’ delight in the interactions and experiences they share together. This has created some really special memories for the families and their children.  

There have even been times we have been able to share the joy of a parent seeing their young child learn, grow and develop through playing with the seniors. We have seen children come out of their shells, develop confidence, try new things, enjoy having an audience and even take charge in showing the seniors how to do something! 

There are even some wonderful opportunities to listen to seniors tell some amazing stories about past times and their lives when they were young. Everyone learns so much from each other. 

For some of these young children, intergenerational playgroup has given them the experience of having a grandparent figure and that is really a special and unique experience.  

 Needing some ideas on the best ways to interact with an intergenerational playgroup? Check out our tips here.

 About Julie Bloor
Julie is a member of the Playgroup WA team and has been working with families in various playgroups and programs for many years.  Julie’s recent experience has included facilitating intergenerational playgroups in aged care settings.  One of the things we love about Julie is that she has great insights into human interactions. She has a wealth of information to share about what happens when you bring seniors and families with young children together in playgroups and we wanted to share some of Julie’s insights and stories.   

Previous post
How to make damper
Next post
More than play