I wish that I could open this article like this:
Bees will be bees and kids will be kids. Bees are not about to disappear from the planet, so you do not need to concern yourself with your kids interacting with bees. Whether you are camping or having a picnic, you and your kids will always have a few uninvited guests.
That is how I wish I could open this article. But the very sad truth about bees is that their populations are diminishing every day. The use of pesticides on crops and in gardens is rapidly killing the global population of bees.
Homeowners are opting for extermination rather than calling a beekeeper out to remove swarms. It is a dire situation that is going to have a big impact on our children and future generations.
For this reason, it is crucial that we teach our kids about bees and the incredible benefits they bring to our lives. A jar of honey is yummy, but honey is just a byproduct of the incredible service bees offer to the planet.
Rather than fearing bees, kids should be learning about conservation and safety about and around bees. Teaching your kids about bees will ensure they behave responsibly around bees, and give them respect for one of mother nature’s tiniest inhabitants.
So, what can you teach your kids about bees?
Before you pack up your kids to expose them to bees, it is helpful to know whether or not they are allergic to bees. Knowing this will better equip you to assess the level of care you will need to give if your child is allergic.
Bee sting allergies are one of the most serious allergies out there. If your child is allergic, you would probably have to carry an EpiPen, and you would need to take the child to a hospital for treatment.
But there are some things you can teach your child before they are even around bees to keep themselves safe.
It is very important to teach your children not to panic if a bee comes near them, or stings them.
When a bee stings, its barbed stinger is left in the skin. Along with causing pain, the stinger releases pheromones once it is embedded in the skin. The scent of these pheromones coupled with panic can cause other bees to swarm if they believe the person stung is a danger to them.
Any sudden movements, like thrashing arms or running away can cause panic in a colony.
Teach your child to stay still. Teach them not to run away. This is hard because being stung really hurts! I know! But you can turn a visitor to your picnic into a win-win situation.
Feed your child’s curiosity by pouring out a little of the cold drink the bee is intent on getting into in a small container, place it a short distance away from where you are sitting, and show your child that the bee is just looking for a cold, sweet drink, to help it make that yummy honey.
Teach Your Child About the Anatomy of a Bee
Understanding that the bee has a stinger can help your child not to panic when stung.
As a child, I was devastated when I learned that a bee dies after it has stung you (not all bees die some can sting more than once). Knowing this can make a child understand that yes, the bee hurt you, but your pain will go away. That bee will not live to drink a sip of cold drink again.
Let them know that if they swat a bee, the bees stinger could inadvertently become dislodged and the bee will die.
Teach Your Child What to Do If A Bee Does Sting Them
The first thing a child should do if they get stung is to tell an adult immediately. An adult will be able to assist with proper removal of the sting, and provide assistance with dealing with the pain and allergic reactions.
Teach your child the following:
- Tell an adult immediately.
- Remove the stinger as soon as possible. The stinger secretes venom continuously, so it will continue to hurt as long as the stinger is in. The stinger should not be pulled out as that would squeeze more venom into the skin. It should always be scraped out sideways. An ATM card works best for removing stingers. Because of the pheromone’s stingers release, once stung, other bees will be alerted to the presence of a ‘predator’ and will attack. Therefore, the sooner the stinger is removed, the fewer times you will be stung.
- Wash the area with soap and water immediately to remove the venom.
- Apply something cold on the skin where the sting occurred. This will help relieve the pain and discomfort.
- If the area continues to hurt after 20 to 30 minutes, ask mom or dad or another responsible adult for a pain killer.
If any of the following symptoms occur, seek medical assistance immediately:
- Swelling of the mouth, throat, or tongue
- Tingling sensation
- Trouble breathing
- Hives or welts
- Rapid heartbeat
Teach Your Child How to Avoid Getting Stung
There are plenty of things your child can do to avoid getting stung.
- Leave hives alone – bees do not like to be disturbed, they will see any intrusion as a threat, and they will attack.
- Cover food or drinks when in the outdoors – as a parent, you should know that bees love a cold drink and will go into a soda can making the threat of being stung more real. If a bee is in a can and a child drinks they could be stung in the mouth or throat which will be very painful as the stinger cannot be removed, and if the child is allergic the consequences can be devastating. Rather drink from bottles with lids so that the bees do not get into the cold drink.
- Wear shoes outdoors – bees can get overheated and land in the grass where they cannot easily be seen. If stepped on, you would sting too!
- Avoid rubbish and soda cans, as bees may be drinking inside.
- If your child is going outdoors on a hike or picnic, teach them to not wear dark colors or red, as these colors get bees worked up. Bees have very good eyesight too; they will see a flower on a shirt like a real flower, and be drawn to it for nectar.
- Teach them to avoid sweet-smelling lotions and products, as these will attract the bees.
- Teach them to stay calm around bees. Bees are easily stressed as they are workaholics who are always looking out for the needs of the hive. If there are bees around, stand still, do not make any sudden moves like swatting at the bee.
Teach Your Kids The Value of Bees to The Environment
Bees are an important part of life on earth. They help plants grow by pollinating flowers as they move from plant to plant. As they move from one plant to another, pollen collects on the little hairs on the legs. and is stored in their pollen sacs on their back legs.
When they move to a different flower to collect the pollen, some of the pollen is left behind in the second flower. This helps pollen move from the male to the female parts of plants.
This is how plants reproduce. Without this process, plants become extinct (unless helped by wind or other insects.
Without plants, we lose a valuable food source, we do not have shade, our mountains, rivers, and valleys are not as pretty, and we don’t have pretty flowers in our garden. Emphasize the importance of the role of bees in their world.
As a parent, you can show your kids the reproductive parts of plants and let your kids touch the pollen then look at their fingers to see the pollen that is so important to the ecosystem. They will see how the pollen sticks on their fingers, and understand the importance of having a bee to transport pollen from place to place.
Fun Facts for Kids
Bees Have Huge Families
Bees live in very large groups called colonies. There are approximately 50,000 bees in a colony. Their home is called a hive. In their families, they have three important roles.
The queen bee is the boss. Her job is to lay eggs to ensure that the colony is big enough to make honey to feed the whole family, keep each other warm on cold days, and cool on hot days, and to ensure that even if she and many of the bees in the colony die, enough will survive to continue with the important work of pollination.
The queen also gives instructions to the colony, through chemicals she produces, of what she needs them to do, for example, get more nectar, make more cells, or find a better home.
Worker bees are all female. If you get stung by a bee, it was a female. Only the females have stingers. That is because it is the female’s job to protect the queen from danger. The female bees are the ones who go out and find and collect pollen and nectar to produce honey.
The worker bees are the housekeepers; they build the hive, keep it clean, and circulate the air by beating their wings.
Drones are male bees. They do not leave the hive often. Their only job is to mate with the queen, so that she can produce eggs.
Bees Have Four Wings
Bees’ wings beat roughly 200 times per second. I can’t even say ‘200 times’ in under a second! They zip through the air at 15.5 miles per hour(25 km/h) . That is faster than traffic laws allow in busy areas in a city, such as a school zone.
They Make Honey
Bees actually produce honey as a food source for the hive. They produce a lot of honey to store for consumption during winter when there are no flowers or nectar available.
Luckily, bees are a little bit OCD / paranoid. They produce three times the amount of honey the hive will need during winter, which is why we can have a tasty slice of toast and honey for breakfast.
But beekeepers never take all the honey produced. If they did the hive would not survive, or when they realize there is a problem with their honey, they could pack up and leave in search of a safer place to call home.
Only the Queen Lives A Long Life
Queen bees live for three to four years (some make it to five years); much longer than the other members of the hive. Drones only live for three months. The poor worker bees live only five to six weeks.
During her life, a single worker bee will produce just one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey. She is the bee who is at most risk because she has to leave the hive to collect pollen and nectar. During this time, she is exposed to predators out to eat her and humans out to squish her.
The worker bee is the bee that can sting. But once she has stung someone or something, the honeybee immediately dies.
In the Words of Abby-Lee Miller: “Everyone Is Replaceable”
Because of their short lifespan, the queen is always busy making babies. The workers are always busy building cells, and looking after developing babies in the nursery (called the brood cells).
Most eggs produce workers – females – but some are males as males are crucial to the breeding process. But what happens when the queen dies?
Only one queen can live in a colony at a time. Occasionally, a queen cell will develop with all the other larvae. If a new queen emerges, it will immediately be killed by the current queens’ workers.
If the queen dies, the workers will create a new queen by selecting a young larva and feeding it royal jelly to help that one baby grow and develop into a fertile queen. If a queen cell is present, the workers will focus on raising that queen.
Beekeepers Use Smoke to Calm A Hive
When a beekeeper needs to open a hive to check that all the bees are safe and healthy, or move a hive, or when he is collecting that tasty honey, he or she will use a device called a smoker to calm the bees so that the bees don’t attack them.
When bees smell smoke, their number one concern is to prepare to leave in case the fire comes too close to home. They prepare by picking up as much honey as they can carry, so that if they have to leave the hive in a hurry to get away from the fire, they will have enough food to last while they build a new hive.
The smoke does not harm the bees, once it goes away, they carry on with life as usual.
Bees Have Amazing Eyesight
Bees have five eyes. They can differentiate shapes and colors. They associate certain colors with food and certain colors with danger.
Bees can see all colors except red. Bees do not like dark colors and they do not like anything red (probably because it looks like a dark color to them).
They are drawn to floral print clothing because all they see is flowers being blown about in the breeze.
They are very calm around white.
Queens Have A Busy Daily Life
The queen bee lays up to 2,500 eggs per day. That means that, in a year, she is responsible for producing roughly 912,500 babies.
She is at her busiest during the summer months. This is because during winter, without pollen and nectar, and facing plummeting temperatures, the hive has to focus on keeping warm and surviving.
They are not as focused on looking after brood cells as they want to preserve their food supply (just in case the sky falls down) and they need to keep everyone warm.
Bees Have A Serious Sense of Smell
Bees have 170 odorant receptors. They are able to differentiate odors to recognize what plants are in the area, and head for their favorites.
Chores Start Early
From the time an egg is laid, it takes just 21 days for the larva to mature and a fully formed bee to emerge.
Once the bee has emerged, they take a day or two to adjust to life, then they are put to work cleaning cells (their bedrooms, pantries, and nurseries).
When they are three days old, they are tasked with babysitting larvae in the brood cells.
When they are twelve days old, they start building cells and storing the nectar and pollen.
From eighteen to twenty-one days old, they guard the hive.
At twenty-one days old, they are considered adults and go out to get pollen and nectar and protect the hive.
Bees Are Great Communicators
While the queen bee communicates well by releasing chemicals other bees understand, worker bees have other ways to chat.
When a worker bee stings, their stinger releases pheromones that other bees will smell to indicate a specific threat. The other bees will then descend on the threat, and sting as well.
But the most fun of all is the dance workers do in the hive to let the other bees know she found a good food supply, what direction it is in, and even how far away the food is. This dance is called the waggle dance.
When a bee comes back to the hive with a destination for food, she does a figure-eight dance while other workers crowd around her to see her instructions on where to go. She uses the sun as a reference point to tell everyone where to keep the sun when traveling to indicate the direction the food is in.
In the adjoining part of the figure-eight, she waggles to tell everyone how far away the food is. If she waggles for one second, the food is one kilometer away; two seconds means two kilometers, and so on.
Not All Bees Are the Same
Just like there are a variety of dog breeds, cat breeds, and horse breeds, there are more than 20,000 species of bees.
Not all bees have stingers and they don’t all produce honey. Only honeybees and bumblebees produce honey.
Bumblebees only produce very small amounts of honey.
Some bees are grumpier too. Africanized bees are very aggressive, and will attack in great swarms. They are known to chase after anyone they see as a threat for over a quarter of a mile.
Some Bees Can Create Tunnels to Live In
The carpenter bee lives inside tunnels they burrow in hardwood like tree trunks. These tunnels can be ten feet long, extending much further than you can see from the outside.
Carpenter bees (the females) can sting, but they are fairly calm, so they are less likely to sting you unless you are messing with them or their hive.
Bees Need Our Help
Teach your kids that bees need their help sometimes and that their knowledge can go a long way to spread the good will, and keep the bee population growing.
A child with knowledge can be a weapon against ignorance amongst adults and children. They will talk to friends and calm them down when there is a bee around, and they will stop an adult dead in their tracks if the bee’s life is endangered by the adult.
You can start by teaching them about how much farming has changed over the last fifty years; and modern farming practices are killing off bees in a big way. Knowledge about poison will help them do the right thing rather than just reaching for a can of Doom.
Teach them that farmers dust their crops (spraying poison on them) to stop pesky insects from destroying their crops. Insects are a problem because they eat crops leaving nothing behind. Help them understand that, left unchecked, insects would destroy our food supply.
But the unfortunate side effect of these chemicals is that they are not specific to only one or two insects, they kill them all. This means that these tiny critters, that are so important to the production of food, are also dying.
Global warming is also affecting bees as temperatures soar. Bees don’t do well in the heat.
We can all help by:
- Not killing bees or messing with them until they sting and die.
- If you see a bee on the ground, it is in distress (bees don’t normally hang out on the ground) gently pick it up with a leaf and place it in the shade.
- If you see a bee in distress, place a bit of sugar water next to the bee in the shade. Bees love sugar, it gives them the energy they need to safely go home.
Next time you see a bee, teach your child to appreciate all it contributes to their own food supply. Make sure they know how to behave around bees and what to do if they get stung.
And next time you have an uninvited guest at your picnic, spare a sip for the little lady. She is worth it!
Are your kid’s bee-safe? Let us know about bee groups in your area and what they do to educate kids through programs that encourage young minds to care.
Di-Anne Devenish Seebregts was raised in an environment where daily life consisted of hiking, environmental conservation, growing fruit and vegetables, and raising poultry for meat and eggs.
She combined her passion for the writing word with her love of the pride that comes with not relying on others. She raised three children (who are now adults) to value the environment, and understand the value of being self-sufficient.