Bees Are Friends:

Teaching children not to fear our pollinators

Bees Are Friends:

by Britney B. Bowman Remember the child on the playground who always ran away at the mere sight of flying, buzzing insects? Screaming and swatting, this child may have proclaimed, “I hate bees!” Perhaps this child was you. Maybe this is your child. Bees can be intimidating to those unfamiliar with their importance and charm, but where does this fear originate?  

Significant research has shown that fear in early childhood is often directly projected onto children by their parents and other adults (Creswell, Shildreick, & Field, 2011; Drake & Ginsburg, 2012; Muris & Field, 2010). This means the actions of those they trust heavily influence how a child responds to the world around them. It’s highly plausible that the child on the playground has had an experience in which a trusted adult displayed a fear of insects.  

As daunting as this fact can be, there’s good news — we can change the narrative! Fear can develop in early childhood, as can admiration and excitement. Children as young as two years old display early signs of empathy and are known to mimic the expressions and reactions of adults (Church, 2021). If young children see us reacting fearfully to bees, they are likely to respond fearfully. If young children see us treating bees with respect and admiration, they too will be inclined to respect and admire bees. 

As beekeepers, we have the power and the responsibility to flip the script. We should be educating people of all ages on the importance of our pollinators. This education can begin even in the earliest stages of development. Not only are empathy and emotions blooming in toddlerhood, but the brain is rapidly developing as well. By the age of five, a child’s brain is 90% of the size of an adult brain (Brain Development, 2019). This means that these early years are crucial for making connections with the outside world, both positive and negative. These connections lay the framework for many higher-level skills, including self-regulation, problem-solving, and communication.  

If we can teach the youngest members of our society a sense of admiration for bees instead of fear, imagine the future for our pollinators. Imagine the future for our children. We can begin raising the next generation of beekeepers before they even hit kindergarten! So, where do we start? How do we make a difference?  

Well, it all starts with us! As beekeepers, we already know how important our pollinators are, and it’s up to us to spread the word. Not everyone knows that honey bees are responsible for one in every three bites of food we take, and not everyone knows that they are at risk. If you have friends with children, invite them to your apiary! Adults and children can observe hives from a safe distance and witness the splendor of foragers soaring in and out of their homes. If you sell products at farmers markets or festivals, set up some free educational materials or games geared towards children. If you’re up for a challenge, volunteer to speak at local schools and child care facilities. Kids remember the people who took time out of their day to share their passions with them, especially if it’s made fun!   

If nothing else, you can share this handy list of ideas with parents and teachers to help them empower children and give them the tools to embrace bees rather than fear them: 

How kids can help bees:

Look, but don’t touch. 

If you see a bee, it’s okay to watch her work! It can be fun to observe her moving from flower to flower. Just be sure that you don’t get too close or touch her, which might scare her and disturb her essential job. 

Be calm and kind. 

When a bee is nearby, stay nice and calm. Loud noises or swatting movements might scare her away or cause her to sting. 

Protect bee’s habitats. 

If you find a beehive outside, leave it alone. Bees are hard at work inside and may not like it if they are disturbed. Make sure to tell a grownup so that they can call a beekeeper. A beekeeper will know precisely how to help the bees.  

You can also create habitats for native bees by creating a “native bee house” with different tubes bound together in a sturdy box. Be sure to ask a grownup for help. 

Grow food for bees. 

Bees love flowers! With help from a grownup, you can create your very own pollinator garden. Be sure to grow native flowers and stay away from pesticides!  

You can also create a watering station for bees, using a shallow dish of water and some rocks or marbles for them to stand on. Bees get thirsty, too! 

Ask your grownups to buy local honey. 

Buying honey from local beekeepers helps them to continue supporting the bees. Plus, you can be sure that you’re eating the purest, healthiest honey around! 

Tell your friends. 

Last but not least, tell your friends all about bees and how important they are! It takes lots of people working together to make a difference.  

Everyone can be a friend to the bees, even toddlers. You don’t necessarily have to own hives and a bee suit to do so. It all starts with the heart, and if we can educate and empower our communities to love bees instead of fear them — it’s a domino effect from there.  

Sources: 

Brain Development. (2019, September 16). Retrieved December 13, 2021, from https://www.firstthingsfirst.org/early-childhood-matters/brain-development/ 

Church, E. B. (2021). Ages & Stages: Empathy | Scholastic. Scholastic. Retrieved December 8, 2021, from https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/ages-stages-empathy/ 

Creswell, C., Shildrick, S., & Field, A. P. (2011). Interpretation of ambiguity in children: A prospective study of associations with anxiety and parental interpretations. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 20(2), 240-250. 

About the author: 

Britney B. Bowman is a first-generation female beekeeper residing in the mountains of North Carolina. Britney was a preschool teacher for seven years before leaving her full-time job to focus on bees. She holds both an Associate’s and a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education. Outside of the apiary, Britney loves making art, writing, and telling anyone who will listen about bees. Find her on Instagram at @mrs.bs.bees, and the podcast that she co-hosts, Bible Belt Beekeeping, will soon be available on all listening platforms.  

Originally published in the April/May 2022 issue of Backyard Beekeeping and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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