People come and go at the Whittlesea Nursing Home. It is a revolving door of relatives, carers and staff. These people pique interest from the residents. They glance up to see if the visitor is for them. A wave of relief floods over some as they see a familiar face. When they look back at their life that has been, it is hard to imagine that they now live here. Some of them cannot believe how they have aged. Time, it passes us all by.

Every so often, the Whittlesea residents are warmly brought back to the present and they embrace it. They are not looking back, or fearing what may lie ahead. For a while, they are distracted and they are happy for youth floods into their home with unbound joy and innocence. The local playgroup wanders into their space to play, cuddle, sing and connect in a childlike way- with affection and trust. Some of the children are shy and curiously inspect the residents wrinkles, but for the most part, it is natural, without pretence or judgement.

The playgroup relishes their visits to the aged care facility. Playgroup Treasurer Karen Smith said that it is an important connection within their community. It creates purpose for the residents and often reawakens a vivacity within them.

“I recall one resident who seemed to be quite incapacitated, he was wheel chair bound and had not said a single word the entire time we were there. When the children started to sing row row row your boat something lit up inside him and he sang this song at the top of his lungs with a big smile on his face. He enjoyed it so much we did an encore performance just for him.”

“It also takes the residents back to their own childhood when we sing the classic nursery rhymes,” said Karen.

As the parents observe, the younger people and the older people have a lot in common. They have the capacity to teach one another and provide company that is so desperately needed and wanted. The older generations have a lot of skills to impart and the young bring enthusiasm and curiosity. They also have a great capacity to interact with affection. That human touch some have not felt for a very long time.

Art is another aspect of their interactions. Together the young and old create; some just watch on with interest.

“We leave it there as nice reminder of our visit and to add a bit of colour to the walls,” said Karen.

Jo Hannagan has been part of the Whittlesea playgroup for five years as it has changed and grown. She said that the playgroup has provided great opportunities for her kids to get to know other families.

“It has helped to create the ‘village’ to engage my kids socially.”

That village that Jo speaks of has helped her children come out of their shell. Monique Maher’s son has benefited from playgroup days and the social interaction that brings.

“My son use to hide in his older sisters shadow but due to some beautiful friendships made at Whittlesea playgroup he can now confidently go off and play with his own friends which has helped him incredibly with his journey into kindergarten.”

Another playgroup mother Laura Ellis echoes Monique’s thoughts: “It’s such a great way for kids to make friends and socialise to get them ready for kinder and school. Playgroup is a great outlet for mums for the support and friendship as well.”

Playgroup Treasurer Karen has been part of the group for many years and was the President in 2015 when the playgroup won Best Community Playgroup of the Year. Since then the playgroup has come along in leaps and bounds. Karen got swept up in the warmth of the group. It meant something to her and she cared enough to take up the post and keep the positive momentum going.

The playgroup has become more inclusive over time, branching out from a mother’s group to be a place for dads and grandparents, too.

“We purchased a new change table to go into the men’s toilets as we found the dads had nowhere to change their children. We also changed all of our literature from mums to parents and care givers to include everyone,” said Karen.

The playgroup is putting in the effort. The people are showing up and being together. They have invested in sustainable toys to promote imaginative and creative play. They have raised money to improve their facilities. They run storytime at the local library, borrowing books to share at the aged care facility. They take part in ANZAC Day commemorations and take the children on excursions and most importantly- they connect.

That human connection leaves an indelible mark on those little minds and hopefully, they will remember that man in the nursing home singing happily.

“It brought a tear to my eye because we all wanted to keep singing just for him so we could see his beautiful smile once again.”

Nothing much tops that.

Article by Sinead Halliday

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