Ladies at centre based day care

Ladies at centre based day care.

Senior Italians really like to socialise in groups. Favoured pastimes are informal morning/afternoon coffee visits or gatherings, playing bocce, cards and tombola. They prefer to live communally and not to spend lots of time alone. The following list of activities offers ideas to the aged care worker in the provision of culturally appropriate care to Italians in the residential or home care setting.

Italian Morning Coffee

It is in the folkway and the tradition of hospitality for Italians to share food and coffee together, either with family or friends. Sharing a regular mocca coffee with homebaked cakes and biscuits is a sure way of keeping up with what is happening in the community, to pick up flagging energy and just to share information and a laugh. To hold a morning coffee time, it is important to provide Italian brewed coffee and biscuits and/or cakes. Most local supermarkets sell Italian biscuits by the packet but if a special event is catered for, fresh Italian paste and dolci can be purchased from an Italian pasticceria where cakes are baked daily. Italian music could be played via the radio or CD or by a live musician. The opportunity to play cards or  tombola might be appreciated by the group.


The Italian word for Bingo. It is played on a laminated card full of random numbers. Each participant has tokens or a pen to cover up the numbers once they have been called out. The first person to reach a line calls out cinquina which means the fifth. They say this word because 5 numbers make up a line and the first to get a straight line wins a minor prize. Then the next time something is called out will be the word tombola. This is when all numbers on their card have been called out. The first persn to win tombola wins the major prize.


Similar to the French Boules, this Italian game dates back to Roman times. A game must have a minimum of 2 players or two teams of any number. The game is usually played on a flat surface- concrete or grass. How to play Bocce. You will need bocce balls and a smaller ball called the boccino/pallino (or the jack). They can be made of plastic or metal.

Playing Cards

Triestine playing cards

Triestine playing cards

There are different variations of the cards which are: Triestine, Napoletane, Piacentine or Trevigiane. Different cards will be used by people from different Italian regions – ask your group which cards they prefer to use. They can be found in some Italian tobacconists, delicatessens, newsagencies and Italian barber’s salons. The Italian deck consists of forty cards which is divided into four suits : coins (denari), cups (coppe), spades (spade) and clubs (bastoni). The values on the cards range numerically from one through to seven, plus three face cards in each suit: knave (fante), knight (cavallo) and king (re). There are many games you can play with these cards but the most well known are Scopa and Briscola.


Scopa is translated to English as (broom), and this is probably because the idea of the game is “to sweep” all of the cards off the table. This popular card game is mainly played by southern Italians, as its origin is Sicilian. Detailed instructions on playing Scopa.


Similar to scopa and equally as popular amongst Italians. Its origins are believed to have come from the north eastern region of Italy (Friuli Venezia Giulia), dating back to the 18th Century. For : Detailed instructions on playing  Briscola.


Most Italians do love to listen to music and even sing in choral groups. Popular forms are traditional folk music, classic Neapolitan music, opera and Italian hits of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Compilations of music genres can be bought through Amazon etc.

Musicians can be employed to play during a special event in the Italian calendar. To obtain a current list of musicians working in the Sydney Metro region call community services at Co.As.It. or check our resources list.


Tomatoes gardening

Back yard crops

Regional foods are what most older Italians are familiar with. Every Italian family has a particular pasta sauce or ragu, cakes (dolci e paste) and biscuits ( biscotti) that they prize. Often these recipies have been followed by women through the family and the community for generations.

Following regional recipies can be a good idea for reminiscing activities in a residential aged care facility or centre based aged care service or in home respite or for Dementia groups. Preparing, cooking and eating the products of these recipies utilises the sensory nature of cooking and its potential to allow the older person to recall the flavours, odours and textures of eras and lifetimes most familiar to them. Try using garlic, oregano, basil, festive dough and dumpling mixtures, thyme, sage, parsely, anchovies, olives, parmesan cheese, olive oil, figs, almonds and chestnuts in your activities plans.

As many older Italians have been and are knowlegable gardeners, activities based around growing and preparing vegetables and ornamental and flowering plants could be a good idea. Avoid planting marigolds as in Italian culture these flowers are grown and taken to the cemetary. Try growing peas, beans, string beans, grape vines, tomatoes, figs, olive trees, cypress trees, cyclamens, irises, herbs used in Italian cooking mentioned above. For regional and national recipies , (link to pdf of recipies etc) in resources list.

Special events and weekly programs

Biscuits and cakes for special events

Biscuits and cakes for special events

When holding an event celebrating a festive day in the Italian calendar at a residential care facility or centre based respite service, try serving Italian mocca coffee, biscuits, cakes and lunches accompanied by live Italian music and decorated with Italian themed crafts made by residents and clients. Also invite the community.

Dolci, paste and biscotti can be bought at any Italian pastry shop (Pasticceria).

Co.As.It. has a photographic exhibition, Through my eyes for your eyes, which is a collection of photographs taken by senior Italians themselves illustrating aspects of their lives. This exhibition can be borrowed and is particularly useful as a way of raising staff awareness of the Italian Australian culture.

Include in a weekly/daily activities planner and person centred care plans an Italian morning coffee time, an Italian lunch, screen Italian movies, tune into Italian radio, subscribe to the Italian newspaper, La Fiamma, Co.As.It.’s quarterly carer’s review, In Contatto and other popular Italian magazines.

Regions of Italy

Italians will readily identify with their region, city and town of provenence. Discussions over the differences in food, traditions and feste could interest Italian clients and residents and their families.

Projects and activities can be created using themes of the twenty regions of Italy. Celebrate the diverse regional heritage of your current Italian clients. Look to our resources list or interactive map of Italy for inspiration.

Regional identity and family


It is essential for an Italian person to be able to talk about his/her past using many references including visual, oral and musical. Group discussion or personal narrative about life in Italy before migration can be encouraged through the medium of celebrity culture, famous Italians, historical events, famous photos, artworks, movies or fashion of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.

Family history can be narrated by clients and aided by photos provided by themselves and their families and collated in an Italian Life Story Album  or an English Life Story Album

Many older Italians who learned a trade in their youth in Italy will have memories of experiences of working in family businesses of those of their extended families. Many older Italian men and women learned trades such as tailoring, dressmaking, shoe making, furniture making and baking skills. This can be a great source to derive reminiscing activities. Photo albums will also help to get a conversation going.

Many people in the 1950s were married by proxy to young men and women whom they had never met in real life and whose initial introduction was by photograph through a family member. Those with adventurous spirits took the plunge and tied the knot with someone who they had ver met but had only echanged letters and gifts. They would have had bright visions of the future though – for themselves and their families back home in Italy and for their future children.

The decision to leave Italy, for many young people, was aided and assisted by the prospect of being in partnership with another. Arranged marriages, lengthy long distance correspondence, proxy marriages all formed part of this vision to the future. This would also make a great conversation starter or reminiscence project with elderly clients during periods of respite or centrebased day care.