Young and Old...
If one thinks back maybe a decade or so, beekeeping was considered a pastime more suited to "folks of a certain age". The stereotypical image was of an older gentleman, living in a rural setting tending to his bees and enjoying a few jars of honey each summer.
While that evocative image remains as valid today as ever (and beekeeping has been a source of great joy for many a retiree!), things change...
For whatever reason - be it the Internet, greater environmental awareness, heightened concern for our bees or just the winds of change - beekeeping today is enjoying a resurgence of interest across all demographics. Man and woman, boy and girl - beekeeping is for everyone and its benefits are becoming increasingly accessible to many.
Let's start with one of the primary concerns of many when thinking of kids alongside bees. The layman often has a concern about safety issues, reasonably enough. While there is always a need for adult supervision with younger kids and a need for common sense precautions, these concerns need not create too much of a burden.
Many beekeepers very intentionally engage their kids in beekeeping activities, exposing them to the wonders of bees at an early age.
This article looks at the benefits of bringing kids into the world of beekeeping and the practical considerations in doing so.
Benefits of Involving Kids
Being Close to Nature
Most parents welcome the opportunity to engage their kids in nature. A strong awareness of the natural world in the young is positively encouraged. There are many ways to do this, of course, but few are as direct, hands-on and personal as a close encounter with a beehive or two!
Seeing thousands of bees working together, in and out of the hive, is magical to kids. Show them the queen, find some larvae, explain how bees make honey - all of this is a new and fascinating world to a young mind.
Embrace this involvement and actively encourage involvement. As kids grow older their ability to explore the scope and value of bees expands too. What starts out as a brief encounter with a mysterious box in a garden or field, can often translate into life-long appreciation and involvement with nature.
A Science Lesson
Once a child is comfortable around bees, there is a tremendous opportunity for you to play the role of the best science teacher they will ever know! As you carry out an inspection, you assess and interpret the clues that bees present to us.
There's a strong timeline associated with the rearing of brood. Explaining this to a child is a near perfect lesson in how insects reproduce. As kids look at eggs, larvae and pupa they build an intimate knowledge of what drives the bees streaming in and out of the hive.
The production of honey is itself another lesson all wrapped up for delivery! Again, the viewing of nectar in the hive and capped honey helps a child understand the real relationship between the incoming bees bringing nectar back to the hive and the "production line" needed to store honey.
The use of frames in the hive - holding brood, pollen, nectar and capped honey - is fascinating to a child and shows them how organization can drive a community of tens of thousands of committed members.
There's a broader lesson about collaboration, democracy and more and these lessons will start sinking in early for a child exposed to beekeeping.
A Sense of Responsibility
The physical demands of beekeeping are not too significant, with the possible exception of handling a fully laden box of honey! Most of what you will do during a hive inspection is perfectly feasible for a child, with supervision.
As we grow up, we all tend to carry memories of distinct, magical moments in our childhood, often as a mental "snapshot" of a point in time. The first interaction with bees is a moment that has every chance of achieving that special prominence in a young person's mind - forever.
So, enjoy it, appreciate every moment and have someone video the moment!
Approaching Beekeeping With Kids
No one can tell you how you should introduce your kids (or kids you know) to beekeeping. There are too many variables, in age and in maturity. While we provide some general guidelines below - generally assuming somewhat younger kids - it's your responsibility as the beekeeper to put this in context and align with the maturity of the kids involved.
At one end of the spectrum it's not difficult to find very young kids who are familiar and comfortable around bees, because they were taught to respect them from a young age. At the other end, you may find older teenagers who just freak out at the mere thought of being close to bees!
Think about where you would wish your kids to be as they grow older and tailor their experience accordingly.
Respect Their Fears
Let's face it, even adults who have never been near a beehive may have significant anxiety. A lack of understanding about how bees act is a partial explanation but, for the most part, these fears are overstated. They can, however, be accommodated by a gentle and calm beekeeper and one of the joys of beekeeping is introducing others to your bees, the right way.
Strangely enough, kids attitudes can go in either direction.
- More cavalier kids may see beekeeping just as a fun challenge and throw themselves (possibly literally, if you are not careful!) at the hive.
- Others may be just plain scared. Not all in this bucket will show that clearly, so be aware that it may be there even if not fully evident.
Of course, there are those kids that fall in between. Whatever their perspective, as the adult and the beekeeper it's your job to carefully assess how they feel about being around bees and adjust accordingly. A certain level of fear isn't always a bad thing, if kept within certain boundaries. This can translate into a healthy and pragmatic attitude to being safe at all times, which is a good thing.
As you introduce your kids to beekeeping, ask and show. Ask them what questions or concerns they have. Reflect those questions with positive, honest and empathetic responses which show you understand their concerns. Then, as you engage with your bees, show them how a calm, relaxed manner is important. Their seeing you comfortable around your bees can have a profound impact on their experience.
Under no circumstances should you force a scared child to participate. Beyond being plain cruel, that's also a surefire way to build a distrust and a greater fear of beekeeping. Read what your little one is telling you - even if they don't say it out loud - and help them gently over any concerns they might have.
The "Gentle Movements" Speech
Kids are kids - and that often means tons of energy. That needs to be constrained around bees.
If the kids involved can't maintain a certain level of calm around your bees then they are probably not yet ready to accompany you to the hive. Most kids, however, have just enough initial concern to be perfectly capable of doing everything you say as they approach 20,000+ insects - with stingers - for the first time!
Keep an eye on the kids. Their calmness will be rewarded by bees who get on with their jobs and largely ignore us mere humans.
Which is good...
Don't be overly ambitious from the outset. It's quite normal and beneficial to have visitors - whether kids or not - maintain a comfortable viewing distance from the hive. 5 - 10 feet away from the hive is comfortable for most people, while also allowing a good view of the action.
Depending on the maturity and attitude of the kids, we'd suggest that first visit is merely an observational event. Even that will be something he or she won't forget in a hurry!
With the next visit you might take it a small step further and start asking for a little more help, taking a closer look inside the hive and so on. As we say, small steps.
At some point you will reach a point where the child is able to pull out a frame and look carefully at the little world it carries. Once you know the child is comfortable and happy - take that picture and record that video. These are special moments indeed!
This is easy - suit up kids.
It doesn't matter that you might eventually reach a level of comfort around your bees such that you don't always suit up completely. That's your decision. But don't pass on an overly relaxed attitude about protective clothing to kids. Teach them sensible, considered habits from day 1 and, if they want to make a different call in the future, that is their choice.
Thankfully, beekeeping clothing for kids is now readily available so there's really no excuse.
So, involve kids, whether yours or others! Be cautious about it, do it right and make sure the kids are on their best behavior and absorbed by the bees (they will be).
But do it. It's a wonderful part of being a beekeeper.