recipe for lilac jelly

Share the Buzz, A free lesson guide about honeybees

Why just teach your children about honeybees when you could do something together to help save them? This lesson goes beyond “just” planting another pollinator garden by focusing on planting flowers which bloom when bees need them most, providing the maximum benefit for limited space.

free homeschool lessons about honeybees

Children learn best by doing. And by having someone to inspire their curiosity, encourage them to ask questions and help them find the answers. In this lesson guide, you won’t be creating a lapbook. I don’t have any notebooking pages for you. Well, I’ll include some links to some at the end, just in case you feel the need to have something for their folders. But really, my suggestion for teaching children about honeybees is to plan a pollinator garden together, tend it and talk about who comes to visit your flowers. Talk to your children as you work. Share your knowledge. Listen to their questions and research the honeybee and other native pollinators together.

Not many people outside the beekeeping world know this, but March is the most difficult month for honeybees. They spend winter semi-dormant in their cluster in the hive. They aren’t raising brood. They aren’t collecting nectar. They aren’t making honey. The colony’s population is at its lowest by the end of February, but to be ready for the clover bloom in June, honeybees start waking up and raising brood by early March. A good queen can lay almost her own bodyweight in eggs Every. Single. Day. The hive is preparing for the clover bloom, but the  presence of early spring flowers can make or break a hive coming out of winter low on stores and high on demand.

Importance of early blooming flowers for honeybee survival-min

This is a long post with a LOT of information. It contains just about everything you need to get started on your garden and teach your children “here a little, there a little” as you work and watch your garden develop. There is a link at the bottom of the post to turn it into a pdf which you can then print to refer to offline.

Teaching your children about honeybees

They will learn more and learn it more deeply when the information comes in small snippets, shared while their attention is focused and their minds are already working out what they are observing. You don’t need a lesson plan, a notebook or a lapbook. All you need is a garden you planted together, a sketch book and small, buzzing visitors to talk and wonder about.

Before you get started, think about the lessons you want your child to learn. Use this to guide your conversations with your children as you plan your garden and observe the insects that come to visit.

Look for opportunites to share the information in conversation while you are watching the bees in your garden. Dissect a flower together and look at its parts. Talk about how all the workers you see are female. Drones (males) are raised for a specific job and all they ever do is hang around eating honey and waiting for a chance to mate with a queen. Look for the pollen basket on the hind legs of a honeybee and talk about what that does. Talk about how the honeybee gets back to the hive and how she tells her colony where she found a food source. These conversations do not need to take place during a two week formal study or even in one growing season.

Have questions? Feel free to drop me a note here, via my contact page or on my facebook page. I am not a commercial beekeeper, but I have had hives for several years. I love to talk about this life we have out here, whether it is related to our hobby farm or our homeschooling.

Planning a Spring Garden

As you plan your garden, talk about the importance of habitat to all living things. Honeybees need food, water and a safe place to raise their young just like any other living thing. As humans turn wild spaces into lawns, businesses and farms, it gets harder and harder for pollinators to find the variety of nectar and pollen producing plants they need to survive. If you have older children, you could introduce the concept of a “monoculture.” I live in rural Nebraska and we have acres upon acres of farmland planted in corn and beans. Bees do collect pollen from these plants, but they have a need for variety in their diet just like we do. Kale may be a “superfood,” but it that’s all we ate, we wouldn’t stay healthy, either.  Also discuss why you are focusing on early blooming plants.

Look together with your children for a spot in your lawn to plant or extend a garden. Ideally, find the equivalent of a three foot by three foot area to plant because bees like clusters of the same kind of flower best. However, even a small container garden can be beneficial and your children can learn the same lessons. Research plants that provide pollen and nectar for honeybees. (Sap is not something bees generally have difficulty finding). Pay special attention to early blooming plants that will give honeybees (and other pollinators) a nectar and pollen source to replenish needed stores.

Crocuses are a wonderful addition to a garden. They produce a good amount of pollen which provides needed protein to a bee’s diet. They bloom early in the year, sometimes while snow is still on the ground. They also fit very easily into existing gardens because they are finished with their bloom before most other plants have begun to come out of their dormancy. If you have room for shrubs, hazelnuts also provide an excellent pollen source early in the year.

Wikipedia has an comprehensive list of North American nectar sources for honeybees which includes an indication of when the bloom period for each plant begins and how significant it is to the honeybee. When planning a garden, you do not have to worry so much about how many pounds per acre of honey each plant would produce, but this chart definitely demonstrates why the clover bloom is so important to the honeybee! This article from The National Gardening Association focuses on more popular spring-blooming garden plants that aren’t necessarily native.

Set aside time to watch them at work when they visit your flowers (or the weeds in your yard!). Talk about the parts of the bee, notice how they bury their head deep within the flower so their proboscis can reach the nectar within. Let them know that all the workers they see are female. Look closely at the hind legs of the bee and see if you can see the pollen baskets where the honeybee stores pollen to take back to the hive. When they are ready to return, these baskets are full and look like yellowish or brownish (depending on the pollen color) bulges on their hind legs.

The bee’s year

While you work the soil and start planting your garden, discuss the importance of bloom times to the life cycle of the hive. Share the information in the infographic above to re-emphasize the importance of early pollen and nectar sources to beehives and begin to look for things that are in bloom in your area. Talk about where the bees are in their yearly cycle:

Winter: The hive slows down. A cluster forms around the honey and bees take turns eating honey and vibrating their wings to generate heat. Overwintering bees live the longest of any bees (besides the queen)

Late winter (Feb/Mar): The build up begins. The queen can lay between 1,000 and 2,500 eggs a day – almost equal to her own body weight!

Late March: The first bees from the build up emerge from the hive. The bees that overwintered begin to die. Large amounts of dead bees may be found at the hive entrance as bees clean their hives.

June: A strong hive will have at least 60,000 bees to be ready to harvest nectar from the clover which should just be beginning to bloom.

Summer: The hive maintains its numbers. Bees literally work themselves to death and will crawl away from the hive with tattered wings. Her average lifespan during the working season is just 40 days.

Fall: A secondary flow of honey begins as the goldenrod and asters come into bloom. The hive starts winding down for winter. Brood prduction slows. The drones are ejected from the hive. A northern hive will need approximately 80 pounds of honey to survive winter. Southern hives need about half that.

For a sweet treat, when the clover comes into bloom, take a moment to show your children just what all the “buzz” is about. Carefully pull a few of the tiny flowers (the flower of a clover is actually made up of many small flowers clustered together) and chew on the ends that were attached to the flower. You should taste a little of the sweet nectar. This is easiest with the large red clover, even though this variety is worthless to honeybees. Their proboscis isn’t long enough to get to that nectar! Bumblebees appreciate them, however!

Dissecting flowers

The garden you planted may or may not begin flowering this spring, depending on what you planted, however you will certainly have the opportunity to collect some early spring flowers. Pick a few flowers and bring them in to dissect. Help your children carefully cut the flower open and remove all of its parts. Some flowers, like crocuses, tulips and daffodils, are easier to teach with, but your children will enjoy taking a closer look at any flowers you can find.

diagram of a flower

 

After you separate the major parts of the flower and discuss what they do, consider sketching them in a journal and labeling the parts. Talk about how pollination works. Honeybees and our native bees collect pollen for their own consumption, but they also help move it from the female parts of flowers to the male parts of flowers, allowing the seeds to form and the flowers they visit to reproduce. This is good for the plant and for the honeybee!

The importance of pollination

Did you know that 50% of the United States’ commercial hives go to California for the almond harvest? Hives come from as far away as Australia to pollinate the almond crop . This creates problems of its own as far as spreading mites and disease to colonies across the country and around the world, but it does attest to the significance of the honeybee in crop production!
Honeybees are responsible for 80% of crop pollination for the plants we eat and their pollination service is estimated to be worth $15 billion a year! Naturalists are not exaggerating when they say no bees means no food!

Why are honeybees so important to pollination? Many insects feed on nectar and pollen, but honeybees practice “flower fidelity.” That means they like to visit the same kind of flower until they’ve exhausted the nectar or pollen supply. Once they start on apple blossoms, for example, they will continue visiting apple blossoms, ignoring all other flowers. This ensures the pollen from one apple tree is carried to another and not lost in trips to dandelions, henbit or whatever else is in bloom at the same time. There are other native pollinators (and some of them are even more effective pollinators), but they do not live in the large colonies that honeybees do and they are not as easy to transport from field to field to pollinate crops.

When the bees begin to visit your flowers, take time to just watch them work. Ask questions and wonder with your children what their day is like. Watch how they dig their faces deep into the flower so their proboscis can reach the nectar. Look closely at the hind legs to see if you can see the pollen baskets. If the bee is close to returning to the hive, you may see large yellowish or brownish balls attached to the hind legs (depending on what kinds of pollen she is collecting). Encourage your children to ask questions and if you don’t know the answers, help them research the answers online or at the library. This is also a good time to discuss the importance of honeybees to our food supply.

For a refresher on the pollination process itself, including diagrams of the parts of a flower, Kids Growing Strong has an excellent article on pollination, written for children.

Remember, each visit by a honeybee is an opportunity to share a little more of the wonder of the honeybee world with your child.

The information I have gathered here focuses on habitat protection and the importance of honeybees to our food supply, but hopefully you will have many opportunities to watch the bees come and go from the flowers in your garden. Each time you stop to watch, consider sharing a little more about the lives of honeybees.

Other topics to consider discussing while beewatching:

Protect honeybee habitat

Rethink your relationship to “weeds” such as dandelions, henbit and even the clover that grows in your lawn. In some communities, you may not have a choice, but learn to appreciate them for the valuable bee food that they are. If you have to remove them, try focusing your weed efforts on controlling them before they bloom. Honeybees aren’t interested in your green lawn or even in the dandelion greens that are beginning to sprout up. What you do with your lawn between now and when the first flowers begin to bloom will not matter that much to your local pollinators.

Once the flowers bloom, try leaving them alone. If you have to control them, try popping the tops off dandelion for some dandelion jelly. At the very least, watch the flowers for bee activity. Bees will work over the average lawn in less than a day (less than an hour!). Some of these weeds will rebloom and draw the bees and butterflies back again, but when you notice that the activity has stopped, work quickly to destroy the weeds (that are a whole lot easier to see with that big yellow target!).

Spray wisely

Beekeepers and sustainability types will tell you not to spray chemicals at all. I’m not going to do that. Sure, I’d like for you to do that, but I know that’s when some people will tune out and go on spraying the way they always have, putting bees and even themselves at increased risk. Even whole states need to improve on this. During the Zika virus scare, indiscriminate spraying killed millions of honebees.  A few simple rules can prevent your lawn from becoming its own honeybee holocaust, making it safer for the insects you want (and generally saving a bit of money, as well).

  1. Read the package directions and follow them closely.
  2.  Control drift. Don’t spray on windy days and spray close to the ground so you are only spraying what you need to spray.
  3. Spray early in the morning and late in the evening when bees aren’t active.
  4. Try spraying only what needs sprayed rather than the whole lawn or garden.
  5. If bees are active in your lawn, try waiting a day or two and spray when they’ve moved on.

And of course, think carefully about whether you need to spray at all!

Share

OK, so really, a few extra nectar producing plants in your garden are not likely to have much of an affect on bee populations in your area. Bees visit approximately 2 million flowers to produce one pound of honey. Appreciate that the next time you see shelves lined with this liquid gold. Your pollinator garden will be most effective at teaching your children to respect habitats and learn about honeybees and other insects sharing our lawns and gardens with us.

But imagine if everyone in your neighborhood gardened with bees in mind. A little extra planning put into our landscaping could mean that we could begin to give bees and other pollinators back some of their habitat. Share this information with friends and neighbors who might be interested in doing what they can to help honeybee populations. You don’t have to dig up your lawn and replace it with clover. You don’t even have to stop controlling weeds. All it takes is a little forethought and a conscientious effort to include plants that honeybees seek out in your landscaping and be mindful of their presence while controlling weeds.

Other resources for teaching children

I know, I know. I’m a teacher, too. Sometimes it just feels good to have them complete an assignment to put in their folder and sometimes you just have to have a lesson plan.

Suggested books:

(Contains affiliate links, mostly so you know what books I am talking about. If you were to purchase anything through these links, a few cents would be thrown my way.)

A Short History of the Honey Bee, by E. Readicker-Henderson. This is a beautifully illustrated book with a lot of good information, especially for older children. I bought it for myself and read it aloud to my children.

The Bee Tree, by Patricia Polacco. One of my favorite children’s authors. Mary Ellen gets bored and grandpa knows just what she needs: a hunt for a bee tree. Mary Ellen learns that the best things in life are the ones you work for.

Lesson plans

A free honeybee lapbook, including a printable game to play with your children

A Round Up of lesson ideas. Definitely go visit a hive if you have the opportunity! Consider calling your local beekeepers’ association to arrange a field trip.

An excellent collection of ideas for nature studies involving honeybees

Most important of all, have fun with your children. Enjoy the garden you plant together and look for opportunities to stimulate their wonder as you share your garden with the honeybee.

recipe for lilac jelly

Free Holy Week Study: Walking With Jesus His Final Days

As Easter approaches, I am starting to get ready to celebrate the most significant holdiay on the Christian calendar with my children. The final days of Jesus leading from the triumphal entry to the crucifixion tell us so much about the God we serve and how it is we come to salvation. I think it is too important to just slip somewhere in between the other activities of the season. I like to slow it down a little and focus on what each step of what that week looked like. My favorite way to do this is with a little “walk” alongside Jesus his final days. We set up a small garden on the table and add the elements each day as we talk about Jesus’ last days. The hands on activities draw even my youngest children in and the ability to continue to play with the pieces throughout the week help reinforce what we have talked about.

Free unit for holy week

Unfortunately, the planter we have used in the past broke. We are going to set another one up, but we are a hopelessly last minute family. The first time I shared this study, I shared it the day after Palm Sunday which doesn’t give anyone any time to prepare. The number of people arriving here looking for that post, however, tells me that there are some people in the world that prepare things like this BEFORE the holiday starts.

In case that describes you, as well, I thought I better share this now rather than waiting until we have our garden put together! If you want to see how ours progresses, you can peek over at my facebook page. It’s all about lambing at the moment, but I suppose that is rather relevant to the coming Passover season as well. I’ll share pictures of our planter as the children build it and I’d love to see yours if you decide to do this along with us!

I hope you enjoy Walking With Jesus His Final Days. If you find it helpful, please share this link! The more successful these kinds of projects are, the more often I will put them together! This one does not require subscribing to my newsletter, but if you would like to make sure you don’t miss any other offers, you can subscribe to my newsletter or to just be notified of offers when they are available.

I hope you enjoy this little walk through Jesus’ final days!

recipe for lilac jelly

Free Poetry Unit for Elementary Students

Blow bubbles, eat gummy bears and write poetry. What better way to introduce young children to this often underappreciated art form?

free poetry unit

I have been teaching my own children about poetry with these lessons for several years and have even taught it at our homeschool co-op. I enjoy it because the lessons are engaging and active and only require students to sit still in short bursts. It introduces poetry from several well-known authors like Emily Dickenson, Edgar Allan Poe and Robert Frost. Children go outside, blow bubbles, imagine themselves as a stegosaurus. In other words, they simply play with a litte bit of purpose. Then they come back to share their discoveries while you write down their ideas, help them organize it and add a line yourself to help tie their masterpiece together.

And what poetry unit is complete without a poetry journal? I make these beautiful journals with scraps of scrapbooking paper for all of my poetry students, whether or not they are related to me. In class, I print off the definitions and previous week’s poem for them to glue in while they provide illustrations. For my own children, I just take the dictation directly into their journal unless they are old enough to copy it themselves (or write their own poetry while the younger ones work with me!) The book drill she is using is tres cool (Grace is the reason I bought one myself and love it) but you can also use a simple hole punch and a wider yarn or ribbon.

You can see most of a sample lesson I shared earlier this year in my post, Bringing Beauty Into Your Home Through Poetry. And if you would like all twelve lessons, simply subscribe to our mailing list! You can choose to receive our weekly newsletter or to only be notified when special offers like these are available.

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recipe for lilac jelly

How to Create a Low Cost Elementary Art Curriculum . . . Plus a Free Printable!

Art is one of those things that seems to slip to the backburner in our homeschool. But it’s that time of year again! We are almost two weeks into the new year and calendars are going on sale. Why would this get me excited?

Create your own elementary art curriculum

Because sometimes, without even trying too hard, I can score some good finds and broaden the selection of art for our lessons. This has me dusting off my plans and sharing them with you!

One of the core principles of my homeschool lessons is, “Here a little, there a little.” I firmly believe that children learn more through exploring concepts one at a time, ideally in the course of conversation when they are most curious and most apt to be paying attention. Really paying attention, because they want to know.

And that’s why I collect art calendars whenever I can find them. I then carefully disassemble them, storing them carefully in a folder. This gives me 12 examples of an artist or a style. So far, I have Monet, Japanese block prints and some Australian photographers to begin my collection. Now I just need . . . every one else! Actually, one of the most fun things is to just let your children go through the sale calendars and pick one.

ansel-adams

They don’t need to know it’s school.

For the next part, if helps if you have a frame, but matboard will do. Or even something you make yourself. Then hang up one example near where your child plays. The idea is to gain familiarity with frequent, self-directed study of the artwork because it just happens to be there. Then sometime, when your child is calm and snuggly (maybe between books during family read aloud), take down the piece of art and just talk about it.

That’s it. Let your child tell you what he sees, what she feels, what she thinks. The tricky part is responding using the correct terminology. I am so not an artist. My most basic art studies left me woefully unprepared to discuss things like movement and balance. In a picture. Where nothing moves, and even Dali’s melty forms never fall.

But I’m learning. Right alongside my children. I have a list of art principles from our county’s 4H curriculum, but they are also available online. For each piece of art, I pick one or two and we just talk about them.

I take it slow, because that’s how children learn. I want to teach art so that they learn to really appreciate art, both for the skill of the artist and for the beauty and ideas it puts into the world. And so we “read” art, much like we read a favorite book.

After discussing the art, I hang it up for at least another day before pulling out another one. (Well, that’s the idea anyway. I have a chronic lack of wall space at the moment so this is one of my goals!)

Then comes the fun part. Playing with the art concepts you are learning. For this, you have to have a basic set of supplies and an internet connection. I google things like, “elementary art projects with Monet” but here is an excellent list of art projects sorted under 13 different artists. They all encourage exploration of materials and concepts, making art low stress and enjoyable with no need to replicate the great masters, making them beneficial to all skill levels without causing frustration.

This semester I’m going to add a section to their binders about artists to encourage a little research along with our art exploration and so they learn more about each of the artists on their own. I’m all about creating the least amount of work for me so I took a little time to create a basic outline for them to fill out and they can research a different artist each month.

Free printable artist bio

Even better, I’m sharing it with you! Just click here for your free artist biography printable or on the image above to print off your own copy! I have more planned for the future as I get our homeschool back on track so consider subscribing to my email list or following me on facebook so you don’t miss any!

recipe for lilac jelly

Free Garden Unit Study Download

Today, I am offering all my readers a free e-book: Developing Christian Character Through Gardening.   Just click to open, and feel free to share the link to this free resource with your friends!  I only ask that you link to this entry rather than directly to the download so I can get “paid” through the small amount of traffic that might generate!  Thanks! And while you are planning your garden, consider learning a little about the honeybee with Share the Buzz: A free lesson guide about honeybees!

Developing Christian Character Through(1)-min

When Jesus taught, he often used object lessons drawn from the everyday experiences of His audience: drawing water from a well, making bread, a wedding celebration, the harvest, etc. These experiences were an integral part of the culture of Jesus’ day, giving His listeners practical examples of the spiritual principles He was teaching. Today, however, even such simple tasks as making bread or sowing seeds can be as foreign to children as the spiritual lessons they were intended to illustrate.

This unit focuses on how Christian character is developed through studying the parable of the sower. Children are given an opportunity to help plant a garden and tend it through the harvest, while the parent takes time to draw spiritual applications from the work being done, “here a little, there a little.” (Isaiah 28:10) Although the foundation of this lesson rests on the parable of the sower found in Mark chapter 4, take some time before each session in the garden to reflect on what you will be doing and an appropriate verse to guide your children toward a more spiritual discussion.

Let me know what you think, and enjoy gardening with your children!