Healthy ageing through play

About 24 to 40 million older Europeans have difficulty reading and understanding text, such as instruction leaflets of letters from the municipality. Low literacy often coincides with lower digital skills and is related to stress, (financial) worries and health problems. It is important to pay attention to this, yet research shows that traditional learning programs do not match and therefore are less successful. For example, they do not match the experiences of the target group and their learning preferences. Contrary to expectations, older people born in the Netherlands often do not see their difficulty with language as a core problem. In addition, they have often had negative learning experiences and as a result are less inclined to participate in courses.

“It was fun to play with the cards. Some of the pictures were really funny” – woman (63)

Watch a short interview with participant Anita Kluge (3.30 minutes):

Meaningful play
Given this background, Leyden Academy has developed a training course on ageing well in good health, together with the Reading and Writing Foundation and various European partners. The training is based on the principle of meaningful play, in which learning skills through playing is central. Instead of being passive learners, the older people participate in the activity and partly create the learning material themselves. Exchanging experiences and knowledge, discovering together, peer learning, pleasure and fun are paramount.

“I like the games and cards. They are easy to understand, especially for introverts. For someone who does not easily interact with people, this is a very accessible and relaxed way of exchanging information. This makes it easier to interact with people and share your story” – woman (53)

Healthy ageing through play
Early 2022 we started developing the course ‘Healthy ageing through play!’ During group discussions with functionally illiterate over-50s, we identified several topics important to them as they age. For instance, the aging body, nutrition, social involvement (well-being), digital safety, and being heard. During eight sessions, playing cards with (simple) assignments (B1 level) deal with these topics. On top of this, (online) searches, conversation tools and quizzes are used to share information about ageing well easily, whilst increasing reading and digital skills.

“We felt at home here, the atmosphere was good. This makes it easier to share things” – man (60)

The first pilot took place in the autumn of 2022 in Amsterdam Southeast in collaboration with the municipality of Amsterdam and the Dutch Language Information Point. A pilot will also take place in Amsterdam North in the course of 2023. In the second phase of the project, both training materials and an e-learning and toolkit for professionals and volunteers who work with the target group, will be developed. By the end of 2023, this toolkit has been launched and introduced during a national meeting that we will organize together with the Dutch Reading and Writing Foundation. On February 13, 2023, the first findings of the pilot in Amsterdam Southeast were  presented during an interactive multiplier event (in Dutch).

“It is nice to interact and learn how other people think– woman (62)

Website and toolkit
The course materials together with all background information and mini-training for professionals/volunteers is available via This platform contains all the information needed to get started with the course yourself. The entire toolkit is free to download and use. Good luck and have fun!

The cards and program are developed by Leyden Academy, Reading and Writing Foundation, University of Copenhagen, University of Coimbra and, and is supported by Erasmus+ (a program of the European Union).