Intergenerational playgroup fosters new friendships

Five-year-old Eulsie Gacia pours 89-year-old resident Marj Watterson a cup of tea. Photo: Supplied.
Five-year-old Eulsie Gacia pours 89-year-old resident Marj Watterson a cup of tea. Photo: Supplied.

Each Tuesday and Friday, the residents at Busselton's Baptistcare William Carey Court Residential Care facility patiently await the sound of little voices, opening their doors to a local playgroup for a morning of activities.

Children aged between six months and five years gather at the facility each week to sing, dance and do arts and crafts with the residents - most of which are in their early 90s.

The intergenerational playgroup launched back in September 2019, coinciding with the hit ABC documentary series Old People's Home For 4 Year Olds.

The unique social experiment explored the physical and mental benefits of bringing a class of four-year-olds into a retirement home in northern Sydney to socialise with residents.

The experiment was prompted by data like that from the national Institute of Health and Welfare, which estimates about 19 per cent of older Australians are socially isolated, with the highest rates occurring in sparsely populated states like WA.

Playgroup WA's Natascha Gacia said she had had the idea for some time and approached the residential care facility last year about trialling the playgroup.

"I'd had the idea for a while, because it used to run out at the Cape Care facility years ago," she said.

"I told myself that if I ever had another baby, I'd pursue it.

"The launch of it sort of coincided with the ABC documentary, which was good because a lot of people had seen it and were really enthusiastic about doing it.

"We like to get the residents involved in the dancing and dancing, if they're able.

"The residents sit with the children and help them with crafts.

"It's really, really nice. We've even had a few family daycare centres come for the morning.

"It's about developing and exercising those fine motor skills and social skills.

"For some of our members, it's really helping with their speech, memory and recall."

Currently, the playgroup is attended by 12 children from seven different families and 30 regular residents - and had drawn a number of new residents over the last few months.

Baptistcare William Carey Court lifestyle coordinator Roslyn McDonald said it had been wonderful to watch the interaction between the generations, with friendships formed and smiles all round.

"Having the young ones around brightens everyone's day and there's an extra buzz of energy," she said.

"The children bring fresh new ideas, prompting laughter, singing and moving to music.

"Residents are also using fine motor skills with the craft and employing different communication skills.

"They ask questions of the children and there are no expectations on either side."

Mrs Gacia echoed Ms McDonald's sentiments and said that the outings had been equally beneficial for the children's parents, many of whom live in rural areas away from extended family members.

"Here in Busselton, a lot of the families that do come along are from rural places and farms and aren't close to extended family members," she said.

"It's really beneficial for the young mums that might not have family around. You go in and can get that advice, that bit of grandparenting advice. That's another added benefit.

"One little girl lives on a beef farm and managed to strike up a relationship with an older farming couple and they would talk about their farms and that sort of thing.

"It was really sweet and she'd look forward to those weekly visits.

"Seeing those relationships blossom is gorgeous.

"Some residents don't get a lot of visitors, so having the children there brings a lot of joy."

Mrs Gacia encouraged parents to get involved and give the group a go.

"My advice would be not to be scared of it," she said.

"Give it a go. Everyone is very welcoming and anyone is welcome to come for a visit and see what it's about.

"It can take the kids a while to warm up, but once they do it's great."