This post was written by Master Beekeeper, Meghan Orman
Bees are fascinating; there’s just no getting around it. If we don’t share our fascination with the young people around us, bees’ future maybe in peril. Children are the next generation of beekeepers, gardeners, and earth stewards. Thus, part of our mission as beekeepers ought to be to educate kids about the importance of pollinators, including the honey bee. Fortunately, bees are so fascinating, they quickly capture children’s attention. The question is, once you have their attention, what do you do with it?
As a former toddler teacher and aspiring student of child development, I will share with you some tips for talking to kids about bees. These tips are aimed at preschool and elementary aged children, and can be adapted for slightly younger (toddlers) or older children. I will also leave you with the disclaimer that this is how bee talks can go in an ideal world. Always remember to consider if these tips are a good fit for the context in which you are working.
1. Director of attention
Part of working with children is holding and guiding their attention. This means, in short, we can’t be bored with what we’re teaching. We have to be excited about sharing our passion with the next generation. It’s also important to keep in mind that a change in a child’s daily routine (e.g., having a guest in the classroom) can cause them a little inner chaos (even if they’ve been preparing for the visit). Once out of their routine, they will be looking for someone to whom to attach their attention. You can be that person! You just have to trust in the inner joy and curiosity of the child. You are the “middle-man” between them and what they’re learning about – honey bees.
Also keep in mind that kids these days typically spend a LOT of time sitting (at desks, in front of TV’s, etc.). I would encourage you to get them moving as much as possible – even if it’s just getting their hands to move by doing a finger play song or counting things (e.g., number of bee eyes). Get their wings flapping or even practice the waggle dance! Just also keep in mind that, as the director of their attention, once you want the movement to stop you need to be clear about this (“Annnnd FREEZE!!” with a smile, and gently guide them back to sitting). Otherwise they’ll dance their way into a frenzied swarm and you may lose them.
We are more confident when we have an idea of what we’re going to talk about. Have a general flow for your presentation. But…
4. Follow the kids
Follow their energy and be ready to abandon your plan (no matter how “cool” or “perfect” you think it is!). Also remember that if you’re bored talking about something, they’ll be bored too. Stick to what you are most excited to share with them.
5. Use real language
Kids love hearing and learning big words. Don’t shy away from anatomically correct (e.g., endophallus) or big (e.g., hyperpharyngeal gland) words. Say them, define them briefly, and then move on. This helps build literacy skills in kids and also boosts confidence that you trust them to handle big vocabulary and anatomically correct terms.
6. Hands-on activities
I can’t say enough about HANDS-ON ACTIVITIES! Even if you just set up a table with some used comb, a frame, some propolis, processed wax, anything they can touch, look at, smell, shake and listen to (e.g., pollen in a plastic jar), etc. and call it a “Sensory Station”, this will get their brains fired up, keep them curious, and help them retain information for longer.
7. Learning stations
Consider setting up learning stations. I usually do a 10-20 minute introduction where I tell the story of the bee life cycle and how colonies work (or read an actual bee story). I use blown up pictures of bees and beekeepers to help with this. Then I split the children up into groups and have them cycle through stations.
- Bee Life: Information about bees vs. wasps, native bees, bee life cycle, resin bee products, and an observation hive with magnifying glasses. Note that an observation hive is not necessary, and I’ve had many successful workshops using non-living props like pictures and models.
- Pollination Station: Explaining pollination and having kids plant a sunflower seed in a Dixie cup with soil to take home. I also put honey tasting here because without planting flowers there’s no honey!
- Beekeeping: I have a kid’s bee jacket, smoker, hive tool, brush, a demo hive with frames, and let them play around with all of it.
- Nature Journaling: Paper, (washable) crayons, colored pencils, stickers, and some random bee pictures and objects to inspire them to write/draw about what they learned.
Again, having them get up and move through these stations plays back into the movement and learning concept.
8. Specialize your plan
I like to ask the programs where I’m teaching what they want me to focus on. Sometimes they have a specific context in which they are learning about bees (e.g., food production, or insect anatomy, or social insects, etc.), and knowing this you can plan ahead and add in an extra little tidbit about their special topic that will really get them buzzing!
9. Importance of play
Play forces children to think about concepts on a deeper level, and therefore reinforces what you are teaching. Part of play also means allowing the children to freely explore the materials you brought. In other words, don’t bring anything you’re not OK with possibly breaking! It’s important to have boundaries to keep everyone safe, but it’s also important to let children freely explore within those boundaries. This is “play” and this is how children learn.
To me this is the most critical. If you exert a genuine excitement for, and amazement of, the honey bee and its life cycle, the kids will pick up on this more than anything. Remember why YOU got into beekeeping and why you stick with it. Because, deep down, don’t we just love and wonder at these creatures in total amazement of all they accomplish as a superorganism?! If all else fails, just channel your inner bee-love and the kids will totally be captivated.
The author of this post, Meghan Orman, is a newly certified Master Beekeeper in the UF/IFAS Master Beekeeper Program and is the 2018 Advanced Beekeeper of the year! She won this award as a result of her ongoing dedication to teaching the public about bees and sharing her love of beekeeping with the next generation of beekeepers. Thank you Meghan for all of your efforts this past year!
If you are interested in joining the UF/IFAS Master Beekeeper Program, read more here: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/honey-bee/extension/master-beekeeper-program/