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Sharing a Garden with Bees

In school gardens kids are greeted with multitude of new experiences. For an eight year old, the first trip into their school garden can be both exciting and frightening. They may be asked to try an unfamiliar vegetable or plant a seed for the first time. This may also be the first time they see insects up close, which can be particularly terrifying, especially if that insect is a bee.

We know bees are an essential part of our garden’s ecosystem, but usually, the only thing that kids know about bees is that they sting. For that reason, we have yet to teach a garden class where a student doesn’t run across the garden, screeching in agony because a bee flew too close.

So how do we convince a group of skeptical kids to share their garden with creatures that terrify them?

We begin by teaching students how to react when a bee approaches. Reminding them that bees are much more interested in flowers than kids, but flailing arms and screaming will get them stung. Instead, we ask kids to give themselves a hug and calmly walk away. These instructions help give kids a sense of control and help them feel at ease.

The next few lessons we pack with as much bee info as possible. We read the Honeybee Man, a story about a beekeeper in Brooklyn. Then, we bring in our bee keeping equipment and show students what goes into caring for a hive. They have a blast trying on the beekeeping suit and looking inside an old hive, but sampling honey is usually the highlight.

We watch videos of the waggle dance, the movement bees use to communicate, and practice creating our own “waggle” dances. Then we play “pollinator tag,” a game where kids get to role-play being bees and flowers while learning about pollination. After, we discuss how some of our favorite foods would disappear if it weren’t for the work that bees do. We end our bee unit by writing thank you cards to the bees and planting flowers. Soon students begin to understand just how vital bees are.

By the end of our bee lessons we no longer have a garden full of screaming kids. Instead, fear has been replaced with a sense of curiosity as kids point out bees on flowers collecting nectar and pollen, and enthusiastically try to identify the different types of bees they find. They have learned not only to share the garden with bees, but also realize that the garden wouldn’t exist without them.

About the Grantee

Isles Inc.

Founded in 1981, Isles, Inc. is a community development and environmental organization based in Trenton, New Jersey. With a mission to foster self-reliant families and healthy, sustainable communities, we design and develop effective services that support this mission and share what we learn with others who can make a difference.

Strategy: School Fruit & Vegetable Gardens

Cohort: Central 1

Funder: SNAP-Ed

Cities: Trenton