Both the elderly and youth generations have been some of the most socially isolated populations during the pandemic, but a New South Wales programme is bringing the age opposites together in a new digital programme.
Running since April, the Timeless Play: Connects program, a collaboration between Playground NSW and Anglicare, brings together residents of aged care facilities with children aged between 3 and 6 years, their parents, carers, and families to learn and connect using digital devices.
Using iPads, the participants meet weekly for virtual play programs that can include anything from creative projects, show and 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.
Nadene Lee, chief executive officer of Playgroup NSW, says that the programme transcends travel and mobility issues to combat the negative mental impacts of social isolation in older Australians.
“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,” she says.
Shilpa, mother of four-year-old participant Viaan, tells Aged Care News that the programme has immensely enhanced her son’s confidence and allowed greater connection with his grandparents living in India.
“We do a lot of Whatsapp video chats and before [the programme] it was difficult, even for him to come and say hello,” Shilpa says.
“But now, taking ideas from the play group, I was like why don’t you take this Lego creation and show it to your grandfather and then that got him interested.
“Now, at least every week he’ll spend 15 minutes talking to them… He feels proud!”
Viaan’s 81-year-old buddy Lyell Burrow, from Narrabeen NSW, says he and his wife Beryl jumped at the chance to be involved with the programme.
“Just seeing the expressions on the children’s faces, and how they change as people spoke and showed them things was great.
He adds that the opportunity to learn more about communication through digital means was invaluable, but offers a small word of advice:
“Just make sure your hearing aid is up loud!”