girl watering flower garden

Photo: Kotomiti Okuma/Shutterstock

Yesterday, my youngest daughter learned a new word: “Bee.”

“Bee, bee, bee, bee, bee, bee, bee.”

I was delighted, but hardly surprised.

Children seem to be fascinated by these furry, flying pollinators. And while due caution is necessary regarding stings — especially if children may have allergies — the fact is that bees are often unfairly maligned for stings more usually administered by wasps and other more aggressive insects.

We all need bees to survive. With all the talk of colony collapse disorder and declines in pollinator populations, now is the perfect time to recruit the younger generation in the fight to help save our flying friends.

From the simple to the more involved, here are some ways to get your kids involved in protecting honeybees.

Pollinator education

Fear can be a persistent problem with stinging insects — in fact there are plenty of stories of adults destroying honeybee colonies that posed no threat to human health or comfort. So teaching your children about the crucial role that bees play in agriculture, and in the health of natural systems, is a great way to counter that fear before it forms. Do warn them to be mindful of stings by not disturbing a bee colony unnecessarily, but remind them that bees are unlikely to sting you unless they are directly threatened. Check out this free downloadable coloring book as one way to introduce your child to bees and other pollinators.

close-up of bee collecting pollen

Photo:Jon Sullivan/Wikimedia Commons

Plant bee-friendly flowers

Children love gardening, and bees love gardens. Why not set aside some space in your yard for bee-friendly flowers like thyme, bee balm, borage, mint, poppies or sunflowers?

Honestly, the specific flowers you pick are probably less important than simply planting a wide selection of plants that bloom at different times of the year. Be sure to manage the garden organically as there is mounting evidence that certain pesticides are contributing to bee deaths.

Create pollinator habitats

Honeybees are just one of the many pollinators that need our help. Consider installing nesting boxes for wild bees in your garden, and you could even make your own with these fun DIY bee boxes. Then turn the whole project into a fun experiment by encouraging your kids to keep an eye on the boxes and record any pollinator activity they see.

Support responsible agriculture

There are plenty of reasons to families to support organic and sustainable agriculture, not least concerns about pesticide residues in our food and environment. But with concerns mounting about the impact on bees of neonicotinoid pesticides, habitat loss and other practices associated with industrial agriculture, helping your kids to help bees should also mean introducing them to farmers who farm responsibly. Does that mean you have to eat 100 percent organic? Absolutely not — but why not start by taking a trip to the local farmers market and getting to know the farmers in your community? While you are at it, why not ask them what they are doing to keep pollinators safe? Bees are a farmer's best friend. Most growers will be delighted to talk about what they are doing to help.

Consider beekeeping

As a failed beekeeper myself, I do not encourage you to take this step lightly. There are plenty of things you can do to help bees without setting foot near a hive. Nevertheless, introducing kids to beekeeping at a young age can not only serve as an education, but studies have shown it may even improve children’s behavior and school performance. Unless you have experience of keeping bees yourself, however, I would suggest finding community groups or beekeeping organizations that can help introduce you to the craft. You could even ask your children’s school if they have considered keeping a hive or two. 

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