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BEE excited for summer!

Our focus at this time of year tends to be on the flowers blooming all around us, bringing divine scents and bright colors to a formerly gray landscape. This year, however, it’s the bees that are captivating me. On a quiet day, I can hear their buzzing around our flowering crabapple tree from inside our kitchen. One morning while counting birds at our feeder, my daughter decided to try keeping a tally of bees on the crabapple tree. She quickly had to give up that idea: we became dizzy as we tried to track each bee’s circuitous path from flower to flower. She watched and listened instead.

There are great depths to be plumbed in the world of bees, but my daughters and I tried to keep things simple. We talked about how the bees transfer pollen from flower to flower and wondered how long it would be before we saw the first resulting fruit. This sparked an idea for a game, which we tried with a group of friends. I put one color jelly bean in each of five bowls on our picnic table and did the same thing on a table across the yard. The bees (i.e., kids) had to carry pollen (jelly beans) from one set of flowers (bowls) to the other. They had to cross-pollinate, so the object of the game was to end up with bowls full of a mixture of colors rather than a single color.

Douglas Florian UnbBEElievable coverWe took a break and read a few poems from UnBEElievables: Honeybee Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian. His whimsical and information-packed poems incorporate some amazing bee facts in verse and in additional text on each page. This was a perfect prequel to our next activity, as much of the information in this book focused on bee communication. We tried out a bee version of the “Hotter! Colder!” game to find a hidden object. We hid some jelly beans in one spot in the yard and only told the “leader bee” the location. The leader then had to silently communicate this location to the rest of the group using only movements. If the food was close by, the kid/bee danced in circles, doing a round dance. When the food was further away, the leader wagged its tail a few times while “flying” in circles. If the food was even further, the bee would do the waggle dance: a figure-eight pattern with waggles in the middle. The more waggles, the further away the food.

Fueled by jelly bean “pollen,” we read two more books about bees and gardens. Bees in the City by Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Sarah McMenemy, is a sweet story about a little boy who lives in Paris and misses the bees on his aunt’s farm. When many of the bees on the farm start dying, he convinces neighbors in his city apartment building to plant flowers in their window boxes and rooftop gardens to help the bees. A section at the end of the book focuses on what makes bees so special and provides a history of beekeeping and gardening. We finished the book determined to go home and plant more flowers.

Hooked on the idea of gardening to attract bees, we read My Busy Green Garden by Terry Pierce, illustrated by Carol Schwartz. This is a good read-aloud, as kids can repeat the “in my busy green garden” refrain throughout the story. Each page adds another animal, building upon previous creatures. The refrain centers on a “surprise in a clever disguise,” which in the end “wriggles and writhes, then stretches and flies” away as a butterfly. An appended “Your Busy Green Garden” section has more information on the animals for curious young naturalists.

These are just a few activities and books to start you on your bee explorations. Bees really are amazing creatures, propelling us from spring into summer, bringing those lovely flowers and fruits, and dazzling all of our senses. Plant a few flowers this spring to enjoy them close to home!

Books mentioned

UnBEElievables: Honeybee Poems and Paintings written and illus. by Douglas Florian (Simon/Beach Lane, 2012)

Bees in the City by Andrea Cheng, illus. by Sarah McMenemy (Tilbury, 2017)

My Busy Green Garden by Terry Pierce, illus. by Carol Schwartz (Tilbury, 2017)

Visit Susan’s blog for more of her thoughts about these and other nature-themed picture books.
Susan Olcott
Susan Olcott
Susan Olcott lives in Maine with her husband and six-year old twin girls. She's played on lobster boats while getting her M.S. in Marine Science, designed and led snorkeling and kayaking tours in San Diego for the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Birch Aquarium, taken kids on bike tours in Europe and the U.S., and taught biology to military personnel in Sardinia, Italy.

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