All ages play: Intergenerational playgroups in residential aged care

Content type
Short article

December 2019


Maree Stanley, Penny Allen, Wendy Lawrence

Intergenerational programs promote social inclusion by creating opportunities for interaction between generations. This short article discusses an intergenerational playgroup pilot trialled in a Queensland aged care service. The pilot aimed to explore the potential of a playgroup program to provide positive outcomes for all age groups.

Why an intergenerational model?

Research suggests bringing people of different ages together in an intergenerational program can provide benefits for all involved. These benefits can include: providing stimulation for older people and younger people learning from older people (Giraudeau & Bailly, 2019); and increased awareness and understanding between generations (Cortellesi & Kernan, 2016).

Intergenerational playgroups differ from many other intergenerational programs as they include three generations: young children; their parents and/or caregivers; and older people. A previous study of an intergenerational playgroup involving children aged up to four years, their caregivers and aged care residents found that the program helped people of all ages to develop friendships and ‘a sense of connectedness’ (Skropeta, Colvin & Sladen, 2014, p. 1).

The pilot

In 2017, Catholic Healthcare and Playgroup Queensland partnered to pilot an intergenerational playgroup, which built on the community playgroup model within a residential aged care service. In establishing the pilot, playgroup activities were developed and modified to include people living in aged care. The health and safety of participants, freedom of choice and mutual collaboration between participants was considered at all stages of development. The room chosen to host the playgroup was large enough to comfortably host 20 adults and eight children (aged between six months and four years of age), and easily accommodated prams and wheelchairs.

Nurturing period

The pilot was supported by a six-week nurturing period. Similar to a supported or facilitated playgroup, this intensive support built skills and capacity in aged care workers, families and residents to ensure the playgroup’s sustainability. During this period, a Playgroup Queensland facilitator attended along with the aged care service’s diversional therapist to work with the families and residents to establish the group and to reflect on inclusive practice. Initially, introductory activities were chosen to promote interaction, with more in-depth activities introduced later to help participants deepen their relationships and explore common interests.

Giraudeau and Bailly’s (2019, p. 374) systematic review of evidence highlights the importance of preparing for, supporting and taking ‘time to set up’ intergenerational programs.

Lessons learned

In running the pilot, several lessons emerged. These may be helpful for those within aged care services or the playgroup sector who are considering hosting or supporting an intergenerational playgroup.

Inter-disciplinary knowledge

A strength of the pilot design was having employees with:

  • knowledge and experience of working with aged care residents
  • expertise in young children’s play 
  • knowledge of community development.

State-based playgroup organisations that had previously established intergenerational playgroups were also valuable sources of information1.


The nurturing period was key during the establishment of the playgroup. Employees from Catholic Healthcare and Playgroup Queensland attended the playgroup during this period. They welcomed the families and aged care residents, and supported interaction and the development of relationships. Playgroups naturally experience attrition, so ongoing promotion – including word of mouth and communicating with the wider community – helped the sustainability of the playgroup.

Choice of venue

Locating the playgroup at the aged care service made it easier for older people to attend, particularly those with mobility and cognitive needs.

Supporting members

Families attending the playgroup may require support regarding the end of life. Evidence-based resources for talking with young children (e.g. Raising Children’s resources on grief) were valuable sources of information.

Inclusion and enjoyment

Open and ongoing dialogue with participants during the nurturing period ensured playgroup activities promoted inclusion and enjoyment. This dialogue was modelled during the nurturing period to ensure a conversation between playgroup members would continue to inform the choice of activities to promote meaningful interaction.


The pilot was the focus of a small research project by Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Faculty of Education, students. Through interviews with Playgroup Queensland and Catholic Healthcare, the QUT students concluded employees perceived cognitive, physical, social and emotional benefits for aged care residents who had attended the program. A literature review highlighted there were few published evaluations of intergenerational playgroups.

What’s next?

This intergenerational playgroup will celebrate its third anniversary in February 2020; and it is still being regularly attended. Anecdotal feedback is positive and advocacy from families attending has led to the establishment of several new intergenerational playgroups with other aged care services.

Playgroup Queensland and Griffith University have also commenced a one-year study examining program sustainability as the program expands to other locations.


Playgroup Queensland would like to thank QUT students Kelly Quinn, Charlie Groves and Siena Johnson, supervised by Dr Kate Williams. These students completed a short research study on the pilot during 2018 and findings from this research were used in the development of this short article.

Related resources

  • Playgroups in Australia: Building the evidence base 
    This suite of CFCA resources is intended to assist in the development of high-quality and consistent playgroups, and further build and strengthen the evidence base for the effectiveness of playgroups in meeting outcomes for families and children.
  • Intergenerational play 
    Our Intergenerational Playgroup programs support parents and caregivers with children under 5 to connect with community services, with the aim of bringing together the young and young at heart – to build relationships through play.
  • Old people's home for 4 year olds 
    This television series is based around a unique social experiment that brings together older people in a retirement community with a group of 4-year-olds.
  • ‘All in a day's play’ – An intergenerational playgroup in a residential aged care facility 
    This journal article from the International Journal of Play discusses data collected from a playgroup that was established in a residential aged care facility.
  • The Intergenerational Care Project 
    This two-year study, conducted by Griffith University and funded by Dementia and Aged Care Services, examines intergenerational learning programs in Australia.


Cortellesi, G., & Kernan, M. (2016). Together old and young: how informal contact between young children and older people can lead to intergenerational solidarity. Studia paedagogica, 21(2), 101–116.

Giraudeau, C., & Bailly, N. (2019). Intergenerational programs: What can school-age children and older people expect from them? A systematic review. European Journal of Ageing, 363–376. doi: 10.1007/s10433-018-00497-4

Skropeta, C. M., Colvin, A., & Sladen, S. (2014). An evaluative study of the benefits of participating in intergenerational playgroups in aged care for older people. BMC geriatrics, 14, 109. doi: 10.1186/1471-2318-14-109

1 To access this type of information, contact the playgroup association in your state or territory or visit the Ageless Play website.