The benefits of intergenerational relationships
- Research projects have shown the benefits of bringing older and young people together
- Intergenerational playgroups can help people’s wellbeing
- Positive relationships are very powerful
- Many IRT communities have intergenerational programs
With social isolation and loneliness on the rise it’s important to find ways for people in the community to connect and ultimately enhance each other’s lives.
Creating environments and activities that build connections between the generations is at the heart of Associate Professor Lyn Phillipson’s research.
The UOW public health academic has been working on several research projects with a focus on intergenerational relationships.
She has identified the benefits of bringing older and younger people together in well-supported and purpose-built environments.
Young people and families from Playgroups NSW and older people living with dementia from IRT Home Care and IRT Wellness Centre at Woonona have taken part in the research, in collaboration with Age Matters.
Assoc Prof Phillipson talks about five ways to achieve wellbeing – giving, learning, being active, taking notice and connecting. Intergenerational playgroups tick the boxes for all of them.
“It’s all around the connecting,” she explains. “Social connection creates the motivation to get involved and be more active. The older participants also see the opportunity to give.”
They instruct the children who, through the learning process, achieve success and earn praise.
“So the real benefits for both are around the reciprocity and the exchange that occurs between the generations. They each get a different experience of the same environment and activity.”
When organising the intergenerational playgroups, consideration is given to things like appropriate furniture through to the type of activities the two cohorts can engage in – to make sure they meet all the participants’ needs.
The project revealed a real point of connection for older and younger people around gardening, music, movement, dance, play and dress-ups.
“When taking part in these activities there’s giving, learning and connecting between the younger and older participants,” Assoc Prof Phillipson explains.
“These groups help older people have a meaningful way to contribute and to be social. It also gives them goals – they want to be more active to do activities with the children.”
Assoc Prof Phillipson says changes in society mean there’s not the same opportunities for older and younger people to come together as they once did.
“We have people who have moved away from where they raised their own children and younger people who have moved away for work,” she says.
“I think in our society, because of this intergenerational disconnect, there’s starting to be more divisions. But I’m hoping a playgroup program like this can contribute to broader social change.
“Bringing the generations together actually does place older people in a position where they can see the hope, enthusiasm and wonder of children, and the children can also benefit from the wisdom older people can offer.”
Assoc Prof Phillipson has also been exploring how to create public spaces and activities that work to build connections.
“As a society we haven’t tended to design our public spaces and recreational areas with intergenerational connections in mind. For example, parks are very orientated towards children and not inclusive enough of amenity that will encourage older people to participate and be in the same spaces,” she says.
“We need to understand how we can create public spaces and buildings with both children and older people in mind.”
Professor Lisa Kervin – a professor in literacy education who leads a team focused on play, curriculum and pedagogy at UOW’s Early Start, has also been a lead investigator on the playgroup research. She says the research has explored the benefits for all participants.
“These groups and the interactions support children to connect to the real world, learn new skills and co-learn alongside each other and the older participants,” Professor Kervin says. “That’s the magic of it. There are older people doing yoga alongside a little person. We’ve had positive feedback and people have felt valued and included. These programs are facilitated by experts in pedagogy, movement and art therapy.”
Professor Kervin says positive relationships are really powerful.
“We can never underestimate the power of connections in the community.”