Teaching a large group of children can be daunting. You might be wondering how you can hold their attention or what kind of activities you can do to keep them engaged. Even though I have now done hundreds of these presentations myself, anxious adults often quiz me beforehand expressing their doubts that I can entertain a group of children solely on the subject of bees for more than an hour. “Just wait”, I tell them, “you’ll be surprised.” Time after time, I have looked out over a spellbound classroom where even the adults were rapt over the subject of bees. So, what’s the secret? Read on for my tips on how to teach children about bees.
Share Your Passion For Bees
Bees are fascinating and your passion for them is contagious. There are so many amazing facts and details about hive life that you can share to get kids excited about bees. Make a list of your favorite factoids and be sure to integrate lots of them into you talk. Let your wonder and excitement shine through at these moments. For example, I love telling children about how honey never spoils and how we have found jars of honey buried in ancient Egyptian tombs that can still be eaten today.
Use Visual Aids
Visual aids are a must when teaching children. You need to bring the world of bees to life for them. In my opinion, photographs do the job best. With this in mind, I created a set of honey bee educational posters that I use religiously in my presentations. It’s so fun to see the audience react with amazement to the macro images of tiny bee eggs or light up with glee when I show them the photo of festooning bees hanging in a cooperative chain. Visuals can also be accomplished with a slide show or with short film clips. Stopping to show the kids a short video of the waggle dance or a queen laying an egg can really enhance your presentation, but too much digital imagery may cause some kids to become distracted, in my experience.
Not only do visuals keep the kids interested and learning, they can be used to structure your presentation! My poster set, for example, has a list of talking points and fun facts on the back. The set is numbered in the order that I normally present on the subject matter. When I am presenting and I am ready to move on to the next point, I pull up the next image and it reminds me of what I want to say. If I need help, I can glance at the back while I am speaking and use the bullet points or fun facts listed there. The set is designed to make presenting easy, you can check them out in my shop.
Use Tactile Aids
Bringing physical objects to your presentation will really win over a young audience. A observation hive is well worth the investment. I use this simple transportable single frame observation hive for my presentations. You might also like to bring an empty hive, some old comb, a hunk of beeswax, a smoker, your bee suit or honey. I sometime wear my bee suit into the classroom to get everyone excited right from the beginning. After your presentation, you can let the kids pump the bellows of your smoker, smell the beeswax, touch the comb and taste the honey. I do not recommend passing things around while you talk though or you will lose the attention of the audience very quickly!
Ask Them Questions
Kids especially respond to presenters who engage with them. Ask them questions, “Who likes honey?” or quiz them on fun bee facts, “How many eggs do you think a queen bee can lay in a day?” It also helps to share some of your personal experience with them. Tell them how many times you have bee stung or your favorite way to eat honey.
Make An Outline
Structure is important. Draw up an outline of what you’d like to speak about and bring it along so you don’t get too off topic. I’ve seen too many great beekeepers put even adult audiences to sleep because they spend too much time on one subject. When it comes to structuring your talk for kids, try to be flexible with the information you plan to give them so that you can elaborate on things they seem to find interesting or shorten up your points when they are losing interest. If you see their eyes glazing over, try to break up the presentation with a question to the audience, a personal story or a fun fact.
One trick that I use especially for children is to include games and short activities. This breaks up the information they are trying to absorb, but it also helps them remember what they learn. I ask the kids make a buzzing noise while holding their mouths to their arms so they can feel the vibrations bees make to communicate with each other. I have them pollinate imaginary flowers with glitter. I challenge them to find the queen in one of my poster images, a game I call “Queenspotting”. (This game is also extremely popular with adults, with whom I play regularly on my Instagram account ). If I notice the kids getting restless, I will skim over some of the subjects so that we might do another activity. This wakes the kids up and gets them interested again.
I always end my class presentations with a longer game that teaches kids about how the beehive operates on the whole, called The Story of Bees. I sometimes use the promise of this game to motivate kids to listen during the presentation, telling them about the fun game we will soon play and warning them that they won’t understand it if they are not paying attention now. The game tells the story of a swarm of bees and allows the children to physically act out their roles in the hive. They are all assigned worker bee jobs and led by the queen they perform the various tasks that make up the work of the colony. They get to run, buzz and dance their way through hive life. It helps to connect them to what they have just learned and leaves lasting impression on them.
The more excited children are, the easier it is for them to get off track. It is not uncommon for them to erupt with excited chatter after I have shared a particularly cool fact or finished a short game. When this happens, don’t be afraid to take control. Ask the teacher before your presentation begins what method they use for recalling attention. They often have repeat after me phrases or hand signals that will bring the classroom back under control. You can also motivate their good behavior with the promise of a honey tasting at the end. If need be, you can remind them that they will only get to taste honey is they can pay attention now.
Outside The Classroom
An even more exciting way to teach children about bees is to suit them up! I often do private beehive tours for small groups of children. They absolutely love getting in the bee suits and learning about bees while we look inside the hive and it makes for some great photos. It can be helpful to do a short presentation beforehand so, they have a better idea of what they are looking at when we open the hive and can ask more educated questions. Make sure they are suited up properly and understand the rules before you take them over to the bees. I often worry that the kids will get rambunctious around the hives, but am often supposed by how calm and engaged they are. The bees seem to have a hypnotic effect. Take the time to show them small details. I always like to point out the foragers returning will pollen pants on so, the kids can watch for that. You can play a real life version of Queenspotting or watch a new worker emerge form her cell. Are you ready to take some kids into you apiary? Adorable child sized bee suits are now available in my shop!