One of my favorite things to do is to teach kids about honey bees. Our local bee club makes outreach a priority, and we receive many requests each year to give presentations at schools, scout meetings, and church groups. I have had the opportunity to participate in many of those outreach events and all I can say is, “God bless all of you public school teachers!” Keeping a group of young kids focused on what you are trying to teach is about as easy as getting a honey bee that flew up your pant leg to go back down. (By the way, it is impossible to get a honey bee to go back down your pant leg. That’s why it is a good idea wrap something around your pants legs to keep the bees out when you are working the hives. One of my fellow beekeepers calls it the Honey Bee Hoedown when a bee flies up a person’s pants.) In this week’s post, I thought I would give you a flavor of what it is like to teach a classroom full of kids about bees.
When I am asked to speak to a group of kids, I usually bring the following with me:
- Power Point presentation filled with pictures – Go to my home page if you want to download the file I use. (Click here.)
- Teaching hive – This is something our club owns. It is an 8 frame hive box, and each frame has pictures of something you might find in a bee hive. There are frames with pictures of capped honey, queen cups, hive beetles, etc
- Bee gloves and bee jacket
- Hive tool and bee brush
- Frames with foundation
Other members of our bee club sometimes bring honey for kids to taste. I don’t do this because I don’t want to deal with the stickiness that results from combining young children and honey.
I love teaching kids about bees because I love talking about bees and because kids can be extremely funny. Read below for a typical scenario of me teaching kids about bees:
Setting: A scout leader asks the local bee club to make a presentation at the next pack meeting. Yours truly shows up with a prepared presentation and beekeeping equipment. The first thing you notice is that the group you are speaking to is not a dozen elementary school age children but a room full of about 50 people. The crowd includes the promised dozen scouts plus their parents and their siblings. The siblings range in age from 1 to 17. Also the scout troop that meets across the street decided to come too because they think bees are cool. The room is small and hot, and you feel like you are talking about bees while standing on the surface of the sun.
Me: Hello, everyone. I am a beekeeper, and I am here today to talk about honey bees. What do you know about honey bees? (Dozens of hands shoot up including those belonging to the preschool siblings.)
Kid 1: Honey bees sting!
Me: Honey bees are usually very gentle. They don’t want to sting people. This usually only happens if you accidentally step on one in your bare feet.
Kid 2: I was stung here once. (Points to arm.)
Kid 3: I was stung lots of times. (Begins to point all over his body.)
Preschool sibling in the back: I hate bees! (Child starts sobbing because she thinks I brought live bees and she is about to be stung.)
Me: (Sensing I am losing the room already.) Bees are very important for a process called pollination. Pollination is how plants make new seeds. Many of the foods you eat need bees for pollination. (I show a series of pictures and then a list of foods that bees pollinate.)
Kid 4: Bees also pollinate honey.
Me: Bees make honey for their food, but they pollinate plants.
Kid 5: I hate apples. (He sees that apples is one of the foods listed on my slide.)
Kid 6: I’m allergic to strawberries.
Preschool sibling #2 starts crying because she heard me mention beans, and she doesn’t want to eat any beans.
Me: There are three types of bees in the hive. There is one queen that lays all the eggs. There are drones, which are the males that mate with the queen. Most of the bees in the hive are worker bees. The bees you see on flowers are usually female worker bees. (This line always calls all adult women in the room to roll their eyes and mutter something about how nobody should be surprised that the females do most of the work in the hive.)
Kid 4: How does the drone mate with the queen?
Me: (Seriously? This kid is going to ask me about bee sex? Where is this kid’s parents?) The queen leaves the hive only once in her life. She leaves to mate with the drones. When she finds the drone congregation area, the drone and queen exchange genetic material and she returns to the hive. (I’m feeling pretty proud of myself for thinking up that answer. That kid is going to have to go home and Google that.)
Kid 3: Do you have killer bees?
Me: No there are no killer bees in Kentucky.
Kid 2: Yes there are. I was stung by one once.
Me: Killer bees or Africanized bees only live in places like Florida and Texas in the United States. (I move on and start talking about honey. I hear a noise and look down to see a child crying.) Why are you crying?
Kid 7: He pushed me! (Kid is sobbing now, is bleeding, and pointing to kid #8 who clearly pushed kid #7 into the hive I brought. I check the hive to make sure there is no blood. A concerned mother comes and scoops up the crying child. She looks annoyed.)
Kid 2: We need bees to make Honey-Nut Cheerios.
Me: Yes, we do. Bees use honey as their food.
Kid 2: Can bees eat Honey-Nut Cheerios?
Teenage sibling: Honey is just bee puke. (Every elementary age boy is now suddenly intrigued at the mention of puke and turn to me to verify if this is true. I explain how bees make honey and the boys look both grossed out and extremely pleased that puke was mentioned during their scout meeting.)
Me: (Speaking to kid #9) Please stop blowing ash out of the smoker at other kids. (I redirect and start to let them handle the equipment I brought and try on my jacket and veil. I notice kid #3 keeps scratching his head after he takes off the jacket.)
Parent of kid #3: (Speaking to boy) Don’t try that on again. You know you are just getting over lice. (I smile politely while panicking internally and making a mental note to burn my veil and buy a new one immediately.)
The kids are nearly at the end of their attention span, but the parents are not and begin to pepper me with questions. Apparently many of them wanted to be beekeepers, but they have spouses that won’t let them keep bees.
After about an hour of discussion and questions, the program ends. Kids start to leave, and the cutest kid you have ever seen comes up solemnly and earnestly thanks me for teaching him about bees. The scout master thanks me too and asks if I would be willing to come back next year. Without hesitation I say, “Absolutely!”