We discovered a bee swarm in the garden last week, a phenomenon that’s apparently been quite common in New York this season. Our upper garden abuts the schoolyard of P.S. 289, and the kids waved me down at recess to point out the writhing, buzzing colony that had found a temporary home on a tree branch. They said a kid at their school had probably thrown a rock at the original hive (you can hear Tiffany lamenting that fact in the video), though it’s just as likely that the warm winter and an early breeding season just made an overcrowded colony go looking for roomier quarters.
We made a makeshift “bee blind” out of a leaning Hinoki false cypress and gave each of the kids a chance to peer through. We knew the bees were unlikely to sting while they were swarming, but there’s something thrilling about watching something dangerous from a hiding place, so we let them grasp at each other and complement each other on their bravery.
There are so many fun ways to teach kids about bees! Here are some good ones we’ve tried over the past few years:
Taste test local honey (our critics like tangy sourwood honey best),
Make your own honey comb by stamping the blunt end of hexagonal pencils into modeling clay,
Role play pollination: hide pom poms around the room or garden for the kids to collect in the “pollen baskets” on their legs (ours stuffed them in rolled-up pant cuffs or the ankles of their socks), then bring them back to the hive to store as honey and feed to the larvae. When our kids have free time for imaginative play, they return to themes of caretaker/child again and again (pet shop owner/puppies, mom and babies), so this game is right in their wheelhouse.
Brooklyn Children’s Museum had its own bee hive about fifty years ago. Nowadays with hyper-vigilance about allergies it would be a hard sell to get clearance to have a hive in the garden, but it’s worth a shot. Maybe next time there’s a swarm we’ll have an empty hive ready and waiting.