An intergenerational summer camp in Italy

October 13, 2016 |  Akiko Shimizu

In this week’s blogpost Akiko Shimizu, who is originally from Japan, reflects on her and her young daughter’s participation in a TOY inspired intergenerational summer camp in Italy.

I first came across TOY in the summer of 2014 when my daughter Marina, who was aged five at the time, was taking part in “Di segni e Di sogni, Centro estivo Multigenerazionale”, one of the TOY pilot project in Italy. Some summer camps use “Multilingual”, “Multicultural”, to demonstrate their uniqueness, but I had never seen “Multigenerational” as a way of describing a summer camp to distinguish it from others.  I was so intrigued by the concept that I decided to participate as a volunteer parent.

In blue you can read the facts and figures about the Di segni e Di sogni summer camp. I would like to share with you what I saw, what I felt, and what I thought about my experience.


For the third year in a row, the Italian TOY partner ‘Azienda Speciale Consortile ReteSalute’ and the Daycare Centre “Cipi’” organised an intergenerational summer ‘camp’ for children and older people. This year for the first time, the initiative took place in “Villa dei Cedri” (Merate -LC, Italy), an old people’s home where most of the residents are affected by senile dementia and Alzheimers.

The summer camp took place over a period of 8 weeks from June to September 2016 and involved 76 young children aged 3 to 10 and about 100 older adults who are living in “Villa dei Cedri”.


What I saw: “The life”

Children go to school. They play together, learn together, and eat together. Elderly people stay in special homes for older people, they talk together, eat together. Normally each of them stay in their own ‘space’.


At “Di segni e Di sogni”, children play together, learn together, eat together, but they also play games with older people, they also eat with older people at the same table, they also have fun with older people at tea time, they also dance and listen to music together. This is the life, isn’t it?

What I felt: “Enthusiasm”

One young girl was talking passionately to an older lady about how she learned to swim. She continued to talk and talk, the lady was smiling and listening patiently looking at the girl’s eyes.

Another older lady was knitting a hat with wool. The children were so curious to see her needles moving. It doesn’t matter if it was summer. This was simply magic for the children. She was very proud of it, and promised to give them the hat as a present.

The children played football with an older man with Down’s syndrome. He scored a goal! All children ran to him and jumped to hug him. “We won because of you!”


“Enthusiasm” This is not something we can plan, but something we can feel from their hearts.

“Enthusiasm”. It was a kind of virus. The facilitators were so enthusiastic about taking on this new project. Their enthusiasm was quickly transmitted to the children and older participants. My daughter was happy to go every day. When she came back home, she told us enthusiastically what they had done each day. This was very different to my other children’s response to other summer camps.

What I thought: The key success factor is the facilitators.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the key success factor for TOY is the facilitators. I saw their involvement into the project, their attitude toward their work. It was simply wonderful.

This summer “Di segni e Di sogni” moved from Hotel Adda, a residence for the independent and the semi-independent to “Villa dei Cedri”, a residence for people who have senile dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases. Even with this drastic environment change, “Di segni e Di sogni” using the TOY approach proved to be a big success.


In my view the Di segni e Di sogni TOY facilitators should have the opportunity to share their experience and expertise with others who are considering implementing a TOY inspired intergenerational initiative in their town and services.

Bringing TOY back to Japan

The TOY intergenerational movement is something new for many. “To know TOY” is the first step! I left Japan a long time ago. My family lives in small city of Japan. During my volunteer work, I saw my parents’ future in the older participants in Di segni e Di sogni. Right now they are fine to live without any support. But one day, they might need it. I would like if they had the opportunity to live well in the environment like TOY.

Beginning in November 2016, a group of TOY partner organisations will develop a free online course for anyone wishing to set up a TOY intergenerational course or work as a facilitator or volunteer.  Part of the development of the course will involve facilitators of intergenerational initiatives from five countries in Europe coming together to share experiences and learn from each other.  See for more information.


Contact the author: Akiko Shimizu (

Contact the local Italian TOY partner: Grazia dell’Oro – ReteSalute (