Why I Made This Kit
I have been interested in honeybees for a long time, but the spring I was pregnant with my daughter I decided to become a beekeeper. With the help of my dad I installed my first hive in our backyard and haven’t looked back. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best time to start an involved hobby, but the whole experience has made me love bees even more. I especially love sharing that enthusiasm with my daughter and with my students.
There are actually more than 20,000 species of bees worldwide, not just honeybees, and all of them play vital roles in their ecosystems. Honeybees in particular are responsible for pollinating one third of the foods we eat. They also produce honey, which is one of the benefits of backyard beekeeping. Many bees are facing difficult situations with loss of habitat, loss of food sources, and exposure to pesticides, so I think it’s especially important that kids take an interest in them. After all, what would summer be (bee?) without strawberries and tomatoes?
Spark Their Interest!
Some (Lesser Known) Things I Love About Bees
Honey bees are very docile. They will not sting unless they feel the hive is threatened (which can happen if you get a little too close).
Honey bees are incredibly clean. They will not go potty in the hive, but fly out and away to do their business. Every cell once it is empty of either honey, pollen, or baby bee is cleaned out thoroughly and relined with wax.
They use smell and dance to communicate with one another.
The hive is almost all female. There are only a handful of drones (males) in any hive. They don’t work and get thrown out of the hive in the fall.
They keep the hive around 98 degrees year round. In the winter, they huddle together in a dense ball and shiver their wing muscles to create heat. In the summer, they will stand outside the hive and fan their wings to dissipate the heat.
- You can get more than 100 pounds of honey in one season from an established hive.
The Bee Tree by Patricia Polacco
A story for bee lovers and book lovers alike. When Mary Ellen becomes tired of trying to read, her grandfather takes her outside to chase honeybees back to their hive. Along the way they gather a variety of characters from their community including a baby, a flock of goats, a traveling band, and two young ladies out strolling with a friend. When the hive is located they work together to harvest honey which they take back to the farm to share. A funny story about honey and community on the surface, there is also the metaphor of honey as knowledge. Mary Ellen’s grandfather explains that there is sweetness in books just as there is sweetness in a hive. He encourages her to persevere, much like she did on the bee chase, to reach rich reward inside books.
The Bumblebee Queen by April Pulley Sayre
Sayre’s The Bumble Bee Queen introduces children to the lifecycle of another familiar species of bee. Most bumblebees, unlike honeybees, do not live through the winter so the story follows the seasons with the queen emerging in the spring, building her hive in the summer and dying in the fall. Princess bumblebees spend the winter hibernating underground, to emerge the next spring as queens. The beauty of this book is how it gives good information in simple to understand language and in small pieces which make the book accessible even to young readers. For the real enthusiast there are small, interesting asides and tidbits on most pages, but they are not integral to understanding the lifecycle of the bumblebee and can be passed over if your child isn’t in the mood.
These Bees Count by Alison Formento
This is a little bit longer book, which lends itself best to longer attention spans or splitting it up into two parts. It is well worth the effort, though. The story is full of really good information about beekeeping and, best of all, the importance of bees in our ecosystems. There is also a counting section which, unlike many straight counting books, is nicely woven in with the story and nestled further into the book.
The Bee (First Discoveries) by Ute Fuhr
The First Discoveries books are excellent nonfiction for young audiences. They feature transparent pages that, when flipped, change the scene and allow the reader to look inside. The Bee is especially good. It covers behavior, hive dynamics, swarms, beekeeping and other types of insects that are master builders or live in large social groups. The transparent pages allow the reader to see inside the hive, inside a flower where the bee is collecting honey and inside the honeycomb where the larvae grow. Like The Bumblebee Queen, The Bee has larger more prominent text that pertains to the illustration and smaller facts and further information that can be read or skipped depending on attention and interest.
The Honeybee Man by Lela Nargi
A wonderful story about bees and how they connect us to where we live and to the people around us. Fred lives in an apartment in Brooklyn. He also keeps bees! The hives are situated on the roof of his building. This book shows readers the beekeeping season through the story of Fred tending his hive. He observes his bees in the morning, opens the hive through the summer to check on them, and finally collects and extracts the honey in August. In a nice conclusion, Fred shares the honey he has harvested with his neighbors who taste their city in the honey, in nectar from their vegetables and the flowers of the trees that shade their block to blueberries across town.
Berlioz the Bear by Jan Brett
A funny, zany story featuring a bear band on their way to a party and one unhappy bee. When the cart carrying the band gets stuck in a ditch, the donkey can’t pull it out. Animals pile on as they try to get the band on their way. All the while, a strange noise keeps buzzing inside Berlioz’s double bass. Finally a bee, disturbed by all the racket, flies out of the bass and does her part to get the party on their way. As with all Jan Brett books the story is told as much through the words as the lush and intricate illustrations. Be sure to check the frames for pieces of the story.
Beekeepers by Linda Oatman High
A gentle story about a girl and her grandfather who tend their beehives together. They discuss a number of aspects of beekeeping including opening the hive, why beekeepers use smoke, swarms, and honey. The story format paired with free verse convey a lot without many words, which is perfect for younger readers.
Apis Mellifera: Honey Bee
Incredible high speed video of bees in action. Includes facts about honey bees interspersed between the shots of the bees. Bees can be hard to observe in nature because they move around a lot! Here they are slowed down and up close in a way it would be impossible to see with the naked eye. It’s rather humbling to watch this video and think how hard such a tiny insect works.
A neat video with good footage from National Geographic. Bees do communicate with one another even though they do not speak the way humans do. When a good source of pollen and nectar is found worker bees return to the hive and dance for the other workers. Don’t forget, it’s dark in the hive! Bees use their antennae to touch one another to learn the dance and, through this, where to find the food. Learn how bees use position and wiggle to give directions to flowers. The video isolates one bee dancing and explains what each piece of the dance means.
Tip: See the Waggle Dance Hide and Seek activity below.
Get out your bee antennae and get ready to dance. A fun little video for the waggle dance to the song “When You’re Smiling”. Honeybees do a dance to tell other worker bees in the hive where to collect pollen and nectar. They shake their abdomen and move in a figure eight pattern. This video was made to celebrate the waggle dance for National Honey Bee Day.
Tip: Push the furniture out of the way, turn up the music and do the waggle dance with your kids. Fun for all ages and great for a rainy day!
From Zoobean Expert on Air, Laurie Berkner, a catchy singable song about buzzing bumblebees. Counting bumblebees and dancing around, kids will love to buzz along. Kid-friendly songs are always a great way to get your kids up and moving especially on cold or rainy days when it’s difficult to get outside.
Tip: Pair this with The Bumblebee Queen. You could also play this back-to-back with The Waggle Dance (above) and have a mini bee dance party.
From Beekeeping For Dummies, a chart and information about the different parts of a honeybee. All insects have a head, thorax and abdomen. Here you can see those labeled on a line drawing of a honeybee, plus more specific parts with their correct names given. Great for those kids who like to learn and use new terminology. There is also further information about the different parts, how they work and what they are used for.
Tip: This is a great vocabulary building exercise. Whenever you look at pictures of bees see if you can identify the three major parts of a bee.
A fun TED video about honeybee math. Honeybees use the hexagon because it requires the least amount of wax and work and wastes the least amount of space. This is explained with a quirky sense of humor that will appeal to adults and kids. It may be a little long and complex for the youngest bee enthusiast, but with a little adult help they can appreciate the genius of bee architecture.
Tip: Pair this with pattern blocks so your child can try out different honeycomb patterns. This will give them a hands on activity to help the video make sense.
You have probably heard about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) on the news recently. It’s becoming a problem for commercial beekeepers who use their hives to pollinate many crops here in the US. If you would like further information about what it is, why honeybees are important and what you can do, this is a great site. The reading level (and lack of pictures) makes it not-so kid-friendly, but many adults are curious about it. You may also be able to use the information to open up a conversation with your children about it.
Tip: Once you have read the information, and after reading some of the suggested books above, you may want to open up a conversation with your child about CCD and why bees are important to them.
Depending on your child’s interests they may enjoy one or more of these apps. Most are free or cost less than $2.
Overview: A very simple app that helps kids practice counting to twenty with bees.
Inside Scoop: Help lead the bees to the flowers as they come onto the screen. A number is displayed in the top left corner that indicates the number of bees you need to help. As you touch each bee the narration counts out loud. Once you reach the target number you are taken to a table with a honey bottle and each bee flies onto the screen as you count again and the honey bottle fills. Numbers are random and go up to twenty. The cute bees and teddy bear honey bottle will appeal to young children and the app is free.
The Grunts: Beard of Bees
Overview: A silly app where you try and put as many bees on Mr. Grunt’s chin to make a beard while the clock counts down.
Inside Scoop: Based on the characters from The Grunts books, help make the biggest beard of bees you can for Mr. Grunt. A clock counts down and for each bee you place on his chin you earn points. But watch out! Not everything flying around is a bee. And some of the bees might fall off or escape. Just a lot of free, silly fun with bees.
Aaron’s Bee and Bear Puzzles for Toddlers
Overview: Pictures of bees and bears for the puzzle enthusiast.
Inside Scoop: Choose a picture from the menu and the puzzle comes up with the pieces mixed up. The pictures are sweet and the app is intuitive to use. This may be better for older toddlers as the pieces need to be rotated using two fingers and a twisting action, but pieces snap into place when placed close to the spot you want on the grid. There are quite a few puzzles and the app is free.
Overview: Tons of information about honeybees and beekeeping. Includes loads of pictures.
Inside Scoop: This app is more about providing information about honeybees and beekeeping and it does so in spades. There is so much good stuff here, and although the information and reading may be too much for younger kids, it is accompanied by tons of photographs. With help from a parent interpreting the text kids can easily learn about beekeeping and bees. The app costs $1.99 but it is well worth it for all the information included. The encyclopedia style entries can grow with your child and may also appeal to older siblings who may also be learning about bees with you.
Busy Bee’s Brainy Bugs
Overview: A series of games where your child will count, spell, sing, and make tunnels with a variety of bugs.
Inside Scoop: An easy to use collection of learning games. Bees help your child spell simple three letter words. They simply need to match the floating letters with the letter on the flowers along the bottom. When they touch a letter is says the sound and reads off the word once they have created it. A trio of crickets will sing a selection of songs or sing a note when touched. Count and draw with the spider on her web. As you touch each number in sequence a line connects them and creates the outline of a picture that fills in once you are done counting. Help the ants complete their tunnels. Pieces of tunnel are in the correct place but need your child to touch them to rotate them so they are going correct direction and match up with the section next to it. There is a lot to do for $0.99.
Here is the beehive. Where are the bees? (make a fist and hold it up)
Hidden away where nobody sees. (look around your fist as if looking for bees)
Soon they come creeping out of the hive --
One! Two! Three! Four! Five! (put out fingers on hand one by one, wiggle fingers)
Family Activity: Plant a Bee Garden
Why This Activity
Bees are losing habitat and food. One thing you can do to help them out is make sure they have enough forage to make and store honey for the winter. Planting even a small space in your yard is a good way to do this. Plus it gets your family outside enjoying the fresh air.
What You’ll Need:
a small patch of garden in your yard
a packet of seeds
garden tools such as a rake or hand rake, gloves
What To Do:
Prepare the patch of garden where you want your bee garden. Flowers like sun so you’ll need a sunny space. Clear the space of weeds and anything else that might prevent your seeds from sprouting and growing.
Read the directions on the seed packet and spread and cover the seeds according to the directions. Many garden centers sell packets of seeds that are labeled as bee friendly and contain a mix of plants. You could also choose one or more packets of these bee-friendly flowers and make your own mix.
lavender (this is especially popular with bees)
herbs: thyme, rosemary, oregano, mint, chives, basil (allow these to flower)
poppies (especially California poppies)
salvia (this is very popular with bees)
Be sure to keep the ground moist while the seeds are germinating and keep watering them as they grow. The seed packets should also provide information about how much water the flowers like.
Don’t be surprised if your vegetable garden does better with the bees visiting more regularly. They’ll stop by and pollinate your tomatoes, squash, and beans!
Bonus: If you want an excuse not to mow your lawn, bees love clover! When you don’t mow it gives the clover a chance to blossom and provide food for the bees. So instead of mowing sit back and watch the bees.
Bee Water Park
Why This Activity
Bees need water to keep the hive cool and to drink. Sometimes it can be hard for them to find a good place to collect fresh water. You can give them a place to get water and it will give you an opportunity to observe bees up close. Pouring the water into the dish everyday is also a lot of fun for little ones.
What You’ll Need:
a shallow dish or a bird bath
What To Do:
Place the stones in the dish. The bees will land on these to take a drink and prevents them from drowning.
Fill with water. Be sure to completely replace the water everyday. Water that sits can attract mosquitoes who will lay their eggs in the water.
This may be an exercise in patience, as it may take the bees awhile to find the water source. Placing it in your bee garden (see the above activity) will increase the chances that bees will begin using it right away.
Why This Activity
Rolling the sheets of wax is great fine motor practice for young children. Plus the wax smells incredible and they make good holiday gifts for family and friends.
What You’ll Need:
sheets of beeswax
small cookie cutters or scissors
What To Do:
Cut a length of wick a little longer than you want your candle to be tall.
Place the wick along the edge of the sheet of wax being sure that one end of the wick sticks out past the edge of the wax. You may wish to use the whole sheet or cut it down to make a smaller candle.
Wrap the wax around the wick and then begin to roll the sheet into a cylinder. Starting the candle is the most difficult part and may best be accomplished by a parent. Then help your child roll the rest.
Roll the candle as tightly as your can. Some gaps are okay and should be expected when little hands roll. Place in a candle holder. As with any candle, do not leave it unattended when it is lit.
Using another sheet of wax or scraps you can use the cookie cutters or scissors to cut shapes out. Press these onto the side of the candle to decorate it.
Alternatively, cut the sheet of wax into a triangle, from one corner to the other. When you wrap the candle around the wick it will create a spiral pattern on the outside.
Why This Activity
Spun honey, or whipped honey, is a really delicious treat. It spreads like butter when at room temperature and is great on toast or biscuits. It’s great to get kids involved in the kitchen and this is a sweet way to do that.
This is one of those recipes that you will need to “seed” much like sourdough or yogurt. Once you start your own batch you can continue to use it to start or seed your next batch.
What You’ll Need:
0.9 ounce whipped (spun) honey as a starter OR
0.9 ounce finely, finely ground crystallized honey
8 ounces raw honey
spatula or spoon
jar for storage
What To Do:
Thoroughly mix the starter and raw honey together.
Let stand in a jar in a cool place for around a week.
You will know it is done when it is thick and creamy in texture and appearance.
If you use the crystallized honey be sure it has a very fine texture. Whipped or spun honey is actually very, very finely crystallized honey and it will only achieve this texture if the crystals used as a starter are very, very fine.
The ratio of raw liquid honey to starter honey is 9:1. You can use that ratio to scale the recipe up or down.
Waggle Dance Hide and Seek
Why This Activity
This will get your kids up and moving and thinking about how bees communicate. This is a variation of the game Hot and Cold and makes a great rainy day activity. It can also be played outside when the weather is nice.
What You’ll Need:
a paper or silk flower to hide
anyone who wants to play
What To Do:
Have someone be the bee who has gone out and found a flower. They will hide the flower somewhere in the room or in the house. No one else is allowed to see or know where.
The other bees (your family or your child’s friends or siblings) will come into the room where the flower hider is and begin looking around.
No talking is allowed!! The bee who hid the flower will need to “dance” in a figure eight. Dancing slower indicates the flower seekers are not close to the hidden flower. Dancing faster indicates the flower seekers are getting close.
If there is more than one person looking, the flower hider can go stand next to one person and dance to tell them if they are close or not. They can move from person to person to tell them how they are doing.
Whoever finds the flower gets to hide it next and the game begins again.
Mason Bee Hotel
Why This Activity
Mason bees are native bees to North America and are good pollinators. Even better, they almost never sting. This is another activity that you can do to help out bees and it gives you another opportunity to observe bees up close. Mason bees will use the holes to lay eggs and raise their larvae.
What You’ll Need:
scrap lumber, a short length of 4x4 works well, be sure it is untreated
scrap lumber for a roof
drill and drill bit (5/16th of an inch works best)
wood glue or small screws
chicken wire (optional)
What To Do:
Drill holes in the wood 3-5 inches deep being sure not to drill all the way through.
Attach the roof to the top of the 4x4 using glue or short screws.
Attach the chicken wire around the 4x4. This will discourage birds from using this as a snack shack.
Feel free to decorate the house with non-toxic marker
Hang the hotel on the south side of a house, fence or tree. Near or in your bee garden would be a good place to install the hotel.
- Beehive Visit:Check the Internet to see if there is a local beekeeping association in your area. Through the association you may be able to get in touch with a local beekeeper, possibly even in your neighborhood (they’re all over!). Backyard beekeepers often love to talk about their bees and may allow you to see them open their hive. Be sure to wear appropriate clothing (long sleeves and pants, hair up and covered by a hat).
Honey Tasting:Generic honey is often honey from many hives, many sources, and many places mixed together to get a consistent taste. It is also frequently mixed with sugar syrup to stretch the product. However, natural honey can come in many flavors and colors depending on the source of the nectar. See if your local farmer’s market has a honey seller. If so, you may be able to sample the different varieties. Pay attention to how each one tastes and how they are similar to and different from one another. If you do not have a farmer’s market, you can also see if your grocery store or natural foods store sells different varieties. You could purchase one or two varieties to try.
About Tibby W.
Tibby, a curator from the Bay Area, was born to love books. Seriously. Her parents named her after a nickname from a children’s book! Anyone remember the Betsy, Tacy, and Tib” books? There you have it. Even stranger, Tibby’s best friend from high school is the granddaughter of the illustrator of the series. Now, that is someone almost born with a book in her hand! Tibby is a former teacher and children’s librarian, currently staying home to spend time with her little one. She is a dynamic member of our curator community, and we’re thrilled to have her! Let the questions begin, and if you have more questions, leave comments or visit us @zoobeanforkids!