National hope for intergenerational playgroups as Queensland program enjoys success

Key points:

  • An intergenerational playgroup in Queensland has received pilot funding for what is proving a successful program
  • Participants have described the joy they feel when they get to spend a few hours with young children
  • One woman said the simple sight of watching a four-year-old eat spaghetti made her laugh after a long period of bereavement

A pilot program aimed at improving the mental and physical health of the elderly by encouraging "intergenerational friendships" with very young students could be a model copied across the country with the support of Federal funding.

A Sunshine Coast early learning centre is the first to receive funding by the Federal Department of Health for a program called Moving Moments, which brings together ten seniors and ten children aged four and five for morning tea, playing, and activities.

David Gerrand from Lutheran Services says the idea of uninterrupted conversation, play and adventure is a compelling one.

"Children love the attention because when you're four or five, you're in a classroom, there's one teacher and 30 of you," he said.

"Or you're at home and your big brother's taking all the attention or your little sister is.

"But here there's no judgement and they get a friend.

"And for the adults, they have this affirmation that what they're doing is real — it's not a phoney thing."

Lutheran Services, which runs Immanuel Early Learning Centre and Immanuel Gardens Retirement Living and Age Care, has received $336,000 to fund project until the end of June.


'It takes a village'

Centre manager Tracey Ellaway said she hopes the pilot becomes permanent.

"Our philosophy is that you need a village to raise a child — this is our village," she said.

"This is something we hope will continue for a very, very long while.

"Our vision is that someday there will be centres in Australia that actually have aged care and young children together in the same building."

Ms Ellaway said one senior who visited the centre recently was enraptured by a four-year-old's attempts to eat spaghetti pasta.

The little girl craned the pasta strands above her head, making an almighty mess as she attempted to slurp through her snack.

The woman told organisers how she had lost both her husband and daughter in the past 12 months, and could not remember the last time she laughed or smiled — but she did both as she watched the tiny girl fight with her food.

"She hadn't smiled for a long, long time, but our children brought joy," Ms Ellaway said.

"And how can they not bring joy?

"You hear the laughter and you hear the conversations."


Sharing the joy

Participant Shirley Gartner said the program lets her be a grandparent to more than her own family.

"It just fills me up, fills me up with joy," she said.

"I'm used to being a grandma, and I think you need to pass that on to children who perhaps don't have close grandparents.

"It's important in their lives as well.

"They always surprise me with what they come out with or what they say or just little things they do."


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