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May 09, 2019

Minding the Gap

RSL LifeCare and ACT Playgroups recently won a Council on the Ageing (COTA) Award for the weekly playgroup they co-run.

The Lyneham Intergenerational Playgroup, Canberra, was established to bring the elderly and children together to build each other up and, in the process, learn from one another. RSL LifeCare’s Sir Leslie Morshead Manor, Lyneham, ACT is the location of the playgroup.

The accolade from COTA was the Positive Ageing Intergenerational Award.

“Combining play and music and connecting young and old is the focus,” Sir Leslie Morshead Village Manager, Sue Whitney said.

A group of residents and young children from the community meet every Tuesday morning. This was where they shared stories, music, games, and their lives.

Mrs Whitney believed the response from some of the residents, especially those not normally involved in activities, was astounding.

“They might not participate in much but give them a live baby and they light up,” she said. “These ladies might have been mothers or grandmothers and their own family is no longer around. They don’t get to see children at all.

“To interact with a child is very special.”

She said not all elderly participants in the playgroup were able to physically support young children, due to frailty. But that merely being in the presence of babies, toddlers or preschoolers, was of great benefit.

“The children will show them pictures, read to them, or tell them stories,” she said. “So even those who can’t hold a child love being around them.”

She felt the children were also brightened by the playgroup, particularly kids for whom it was their only interaction with older people. “For a number of immigrant families in particular, this might be their child’s only connection with older members of our community.”

ACT Playgroup’s CEO Carley Jones said it was a safe environment to play with other children and to build relationships with people outside the home.

“Children need to do that in a safe space,” she said. “Also, many of the families are not mobile and the children don’t have grandparents close by.

“Some do become like surrogate grandparents.”

Relationships were formed between children, residents, relatives, and Sir Leslie Morshead staff, and these often developed further outside of the sessions.

Mrs Whitney said parents paid ACT Playgroups a nominal fee to attend a morning session.

Ms Jones said it was a win win.

“This playgroup redresses the issue of isolation for the elderly and it’s important for children to have a variety of relationships,” she said.

“It’s great for families to mix with other members of the community.”

She said ACT Playgroups was very excited to win the COTA award, and particularly pleased for recognition of the group’s passionate music coordinator Emma Zen.

Rocking Horse Music provided the music therapy and Ms Zen was its principal.

It structured a program specifically for the Lyneham group.

She said although the short-term memory of the “big friends” might be compromised, the long-term memory is often intact and stored in a deep part of the brain. This is also where memories of music can be found.

“Some do become like surrogate grandparents.”

Ms Zen said when she began with the group four years ago her brief was to make connections in a musical way. “We do that through the eyes, touching hands and proximity, by finger play, rhymes and action songs,” she said.

“We begin with a ‘hello song’, then we do activities, use percussive instruments, sing nursery rhymes, play games, sing picture books, and finish with a relaxing song or lullaby.

“I try to achieve a ‘flow experience’ in our sessions. That’s where energy levels are raised, everyone is feeling purposeful and connected. People are not aware of time. There is no stress.”

She said children did this naturally and desired it; it was one of the reasons for the phrase “come and play with me”.

“And for the elderly, there is also plenty time,” she said. “Everything for them is also slowed.It is a perfect fit.”

“Sometime our big friends are locked-in physically or mentally but the moment you put a baby in their arms everything starts to open up. This face-to-face contact, and live music, changes everything.”

Mrs Whitney said that some of the mums and dads who attended the playgroup with little ones were connected to the Village.

“We sometimes have someone here minding a child, a grandmother, whose own mother is one of our residents,” she said.  “We can have three generations here at once.”

The group meets at 10am on Tuesdays where parents and children have a play and enjoy a shared morning tea. The musical program happens during the final 40-minutes of the session.


Story by Rod Bennett

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