A Simple 8 Step Kids and Bees Program
Originally published by the American Beekeeping Federation E-Buzz, March 2017
There are not many things in life that bring me more pure joy then sharing the love of bees that I have with kids! When I first walk into a room of littles, the mention of bees may inspire fear. However, after I leave, there is an overwhelming love and fascination for our striped fuzzy friends. All it really takes is conveying your genuine admiration for your bees. Below are a few steps to help you out.
1. Read a story. Kids love stories! This works well with kids in pre-K through about fourth grade. There is a list of books on the American Beekeeping Federation’s Kids and Bees webpage.
2. Tell your story. Everyone loves stories, this is how our species communicates and bonds. For groups of kids at any age, share why you love bees. Tell them the story of how you became a beekeeper, did a swarm land in your yard? Was your grandmother a beekeeper? Have you always just felt called to it? Share any special opportunities you have had, thanks to bees. Tell them about different people you have met, new friends you have made, or places you have traveled.
3. Do some research. What is the coolest, most amazing, things bees do – in your own opinion? Flip through some books, talk to your local extension agent, or listen to a bee episode of Science Friday. Really dive into the vast world of bees, and whatever really gives you that “wow factor” – share it!
4. Talk about honey. Let kids know how remarkable honey is. Ask them, “Who here likes honey?” A few kids won’t raise their hand. That’s because they’ve only had corn-syrupy pasteurized honey. Bring visual aids (there are some great ones at honey.com), and wow them with all of the different colors and flavors of honey. Bring the UC Davis Honey & Pollination Center’s honey wheel, and point out all of the different flavors there are! (Cat pee is a flavor, ha!) Amaze them with facts about how hard bees work to make this honey, i.e. one bee will only make 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her whole life, it takes approximately 2 million flowers to make one pound of honey, etc. Engage them by asking to guess these answers, i.e. “How much honey do you think a bee will make in her lifetime?”
5. Talk about food. Ask them if they know what pollination is, I bet one kid can do a pretty good job explaining it! Lightly correct them and give a good, solid explanation. Don’t dumb this, or anything, down. Kids are SMART!! Bring examples of foods kids love that bees pollinate. Apples, pears, pumpkins, almonds, STRAWBERRIES! Also bring wind pollinated grains. Ask them to guess which ones bees pollinate. I carry my foods in a shopping basket. I ask if we didn’t have a world where bees are happy, healthy, and thriving… would we have pumpkins, almonds, strrrraaaawwwwberrrries (this is the real heartbreaker)? If no, take them out of the basket. You will be left with oatmeal and rice (or whatever you bring that is wind pollinated), and some really bummed out kids. Ask them how they can make sure bees survive, and they are assured strawberries, in the future. I always steer them toward planting flowers.
6. Bring an observation hive. This is a must. Schedule your programs for times of the year when you can bring your bees. There are a variety of options out there for well built, safe, observation hives. (I prefer the light single deep frame model, I keep two hives in my backyard to stock it with. I only pull the bees out for the program, and put them back by the end of the day.) Ask the teacher to divide them up in small groups, or have them form a single line. Ask the kids to use all of their senses. Watch the bees, feel the warmth, listen for the buzzing, smell the vent holes (or have a block of wax nearby to smell). They will be transfixed, and you will love watching them watch the bees.
7. Taste honey. Whenever you travel, buy local honey with the intention to share it with kids. Don’t hoard it away forever, honey was meant to be enjoyed! Bring about five different flavors and colors from a diverse of places if possible, but always have your honey and the honey of their home landscape as well. Let them know that they can taste what they see in the distance! Bring toothpicks, and you do the dipping. If you let kids dip their own toothpicks, you will have fists in the jars and double dipping galore. Bring in the honey wheel. Ask them to go beyond, “This is sweet.” Yes… and… what else? Fruity? Sour? Grassy? Herbaceous? Kids have extraordinarily sensitive palates and will blow you away with their tasting skills.
8. Roll beeswax candles. Cut deep, unwired, wax foundation vertically into four pieces. Each piece will be a single candle. Most beekeeping supply stores also sell wicks. Cut the wicks to match the short end, with about an inch poking out the top. Pinch the wick into the short side, and roll it up like a pig in a blanket. Smooth the seam, and voila! A beeswax candle to bring home. This will inspire dinnertime conversation with the family, and all that you have taught this child about bees will reverberate out, like ripples in a pond.
Don’t forget to have fun, yourself, and thank you for helping save our bees, one kid at a time!