Teaching Bees

I presented beekeeping to my daughter’s Grade 1 class today. It worked really well. I have two kids at the same elementary school, the older already in Grade 5. So he helped carry in the materials we used, and both he and his little sister were a big part of our hour-long discussion of bees and beekeeping with the little people. If you’ve forgotten, first graders are about 6 years old in the North American system. I was really encouraged by the enthusiasm the class has for nature in general, and bees in particular.

If you have had to talk about bees to any group, then you know the biggest problem is trying to figure out what not to say. Most of us could talk for hours. Pollination, honey, beeswax, queen bees, bee stings, bee hives, bee yards, flowers, sunshine, drones, workers, swarming. And then the kids want to know if bees sleep or if they talk, and you’ve got another two hours of material. The biggest challenge when talking about bees is deciding what to leave out.

We began when my 6 and 11-year-old assistants (my kids) entered the class room clad in veils and white suits. One carried an (unlit) smoker, the other a big black garbage bag which was handed to me. “Want to see a bee?” I asked, shaking the big bag. The audience wasn’t too sure. I didn’t let them wait long. I opened the bag and pulled Benny the Bee out. He’s our big stuffed mascot. You’ve seen him up at the top of this web page. A stuffed bee is an excellent model for children – we talked about insects, numbers of legs, body segments, and eyes and realized that Benny the Bee is not really a bee. The prop helps kids remember 6 legs and 3 segments, though. Then we realized that Benny has no stinger, which makes him a drone. That leads to some family history (What? 50,000 sisters?? Yuck!), and introduces the queen, though we steered clear of discussing haploids and parthenogenesis. After ten minutes, we used the Smartboard for a bit to show real bees, leading up to nectar collection. By then, even the most enthralled post-toddler is waning, so everyone stood up to do a bee waggle-tail dance. It is enough for kids this age to dance quickly if the flowers are close, and turn around and dance slowly if the flowers are far from the hive and in the opposite direction as the sun. Beyond that, you are just meddling with developing minds. After standing, stretching and dancing, the children are refreshed and ready for another ten minutes of bee talk. We ended by handing out little 4 x 4 (inch) pieces of brand new wireless foundation. The kids loved the take home gift, it isn’t messy and sticky, it smells like wax, and it has the great hexagonal pattern. Do it again next year? You bet!

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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2 Responses to Teaching Bees

  1. Pingback: Saturday at the Hive | Bad Beekeeping Blog

  2. Pingback: Teaching Bees and Beekeeping | Bad Beekeeping Blog

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