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Fear-Free Bee Safety for Early Childcare

Classroom Development

2/9/2022 | Emily Jaeger

Spring is coming which means it’s time to talk about bees. Our pollinator friends are crucial to the existence of humankind. However, between bee sting allergies and booboo reports, bees and other members of the Apidae family are still tricky characters on the playground. Pre-conditioned fear of bees can also do more harm than good in preventing emergencies. 

Rather than introducing or reinforcing the fear of bees, learning about bee safety can be an opportunity for scientific exploration, confidence building, and (most importantly) honey tasting.

Bee Safety Tips

Not all yellow stripey things are bees

While this is not exactly a safety tip, it’s a very important attitude adjustment when dealing with the Apidae family. Honeybees are the skinny fuzzy ones. Unlike wasps, yellow jackets, and hornets, honeybees can only sting once and it kills them. So the last thing a honeybee wants to do is sting anybody. It’s a last-ditch defense that can easily be avoided.

Prepare the Playground

To ensure that young children do not accidentally encounter or threaten an Apidae hive, make sure to check the nooks and crannies of playground equipment and fencing for nests as well as underneath any picnic benches, trees, and/or stumps that might be in the play area. Seek professional assistance to exterminate or remove hives.

Wasps and other Apidae can be attracted to food, drinks, and drippy faucets. Make sure that waste is kept away from the play area and trash emptied regularly. Also, avoid leaving food and liquids uncovered outdoors.

Bee Calm

Swatting is a fast way to put the calmest honeybee on the defensive. To prevent bee stings during chance encounters, teach young children that curious bees are not there to hurt them. They must “bee still” and let the bee move on. 

For toddlers and above, you can practice ahead of time with a bee-puppet (stuffed or printed) and a few rounds of musical statues. When the music stops, learners must hold their pose while the bee buzzes around and visits on a shoulder or two.

First Aid

Despite all precautions, sometimes the worst case scenario can still occur and someone gets stung. Make sure the appropriate staff are aware of which students have bee sting allergies and that necessary first aid materials are on hand at all times as per facility policies (this may include epipens and ice packs). 

Bee Activities

Another crucial component of fear-free bee safety is learning about why bees are important. Learn about these buzzy heroes in the classroom or bring the classroom to the hive. 

Meet a Beekeeper

Reach out to your local beekeeping association, arboretum, or nature center. Many of these organizations can send you visiting beekeepers, beekeeper equipment, and/or educational materials or help you plan a field trip to experience a hive firsthand. 

Bee Educated. There is so much more to bees than their stinger and there are endless angles to explore bees in the classroom or in your facility as a whole. Bees are models of good social behavior (beehavior?!): they build intentional communities and work together to thrive. They are integral to how plants grow and the food we eat. They have their own unique life cycle and create a delicious treat: honey! While honeybee curricula deserve their own blog, I wanted to highlight a couple of good finds:

First check out this list of bee books for preschoolers which are perfect for storytime. 

Explore this premade bee unit adapted for early childhood from Buzzing a Hive: A Teacher’s Guide full of hands-on bee activities. The art projects, such as beehive prints made from bubble wrap, would work for a 2+ classroom, while the activities are more appropriate for 3+. 

Also consider a STEM discovery zone or sensory table where learners can experiment with magnifying glasses to look at toy bees and larva as well as honeycomb. You may be able to get real dried bees from your local beekeeper association. 

Honey Tasting

Children older than one can sample different varieties of honey. Flavors and colors are dependent on bee variety and the source of nectar. Is there any better way to turn a bee from a foe into a friend than some delicious honey? I think not.

Emily Jaeger is a professional writer with a background in education (she's taught every age group from preschool to retirement). She was formerly a beekeeper’s assistant at the Stamford Museum and Nature Center. You can connect with Emily via her website emilyjaeger.com or on Instagram @soulinparaphrase. 

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