Playgroup brings joy to young and old in residential care

Gina, Rose & Mahlia Connew, Nicholas Halmay and Rene Ichilcik

A new intergenerational playgroup is bringing joy to both residents and our youngest volunteers.

Visit the Stephen and Julie Lowy Lounge on a Wednesday morning and you’ll hear sounds more familiar in a daycare centre or playground. Colourful toys are strewn around a playmat, while babies and children mingle with residents. Together they read, play or enjoy a cuddle while chatting with the child’s mother. Some residents simply sit back and enjoy observing the children play and explore their surroundings.

These fortnightly visits to the Randwick campus are now looked forward to by all those who attend. “Children this age are very open, curious and affectionate, it really brings out the playful side in the residents,” says Community Relations Coordinator Rene Ichilcik, who expanded the program from a one-on-one format earlier this year.

Seven mothers from the Jewish and wider local community, their babies and young children make up the trial playgroup, thanks to huge interest in a Facebook callout from founding member Gina Connew. Gina and her two daughters Mahlia, 5, and Rose, 2, attend regularly and have already developed a particular connection with 96-year-old Nicholas Halmay. “My girls have really taken a liking to Nick, and I personally get so much out of talking with him about his past,” she says. “I hoped this group would give my children a feeling of what it’s like to give their time to bring joy to other people. Mahlia in particular loves attending, and gets a lot out of connecting with this older generation.”

Gina doesn’t have older family members close by, which was also a motivating factor for Laura Aubusson, who attends with her one-year-old daughter. “I wanted to give Daisy the opportunity to spend time with older people,” she explains.

Academic research has shown similar intergenerational playgroups to have great benefits for people living in aged care, including those with dementia. In setting up the group, early childhood expert Lynn Katz assisted Rene in planning the activities and structure, ensuring plenty of opportunities for interaction and engagement among its members. Free play time is first, followed by morning tea, with Mahlia proudly carrying a fruit platter to share with the others. All join a singalong to finish before bidding farewell to their friends until next time.

Resident Rochel Vinokur, a regular attendee, has grandchildren of her own but loves any opportunity to interact with children: “At this age they’re so full of joy, it’s wonderful to see. It reminds me of my own younger years.”

For more information or to join the playgroup, please contact