Teaching children to respect and love the natural world is a worthy goal for any farm parent and we have so many resources at our fingertips to do so. Caring for a small animal, being responsible for farm chores, weeding the garden, and planting with pollinators in mind are all good projects for farm kids. One of my favorite ways to get children excited about and respectful for nature has been to include them in our beekeeping endeavors. Nothing is quite as remarkable as the life cycle of the humble honeybee. Similarly, nothing is quite so demanding in its request for respect as a hive full of 70,000 stinging insects.
Involving your children in your beekeeping tasks can seem daunting at first, but rest assured, there are some simple ways to have even young children be active beekeepers. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Gear Up
Your children should have their own beekeeping clothing. A few beekeeping-supply companies sell child-sized gear now. Brushy Mountain Bee Farm in North Carolina is the one I’ve used. You can supply your children with appropriately sized hats and veils, gloves, and even jackets or suits.
If you don’t have child-sized bee clothing, have them wear a thick, long sleeve shirt and pants, as well as socks and closed-toed shoes. The socks should be pulled up over the bottom of the pants. By the way, Crocs do not count as closed-toed shoes—ask me how I know. Your children will still need their own hat and veil.
If your children can get ready themselves, that’s great, but be sure to check that their veils are secured before you open the hive. They should check yours, too, which they’ll enjoy doing. Keep all the clothing and other supplies a designated supply closet so that everyone can get the equipment needed for their beekeeping job.
2. Be Understanding Of Fears
Be sensitive to children who are just plain afraid of bees, and don’t force them to participate in hive maintenance if they’re too nervous at first. Over time, the fear of so many stinging insects should abate and they’ll become more comfortable with the idea of bees. There are plenty of beekeeping jobs that don’t involve direct interaction with the bees, such as cleaning and storing equipment, finder smoker fuel, helping to process the honey and counting all the pollinators in the garden.
3. Prepare For Stings
Always have your favorite sting remedy of choice on hand. I suggest you keep an Epinephrine Auto Injector or EpiPen on hand, just in case. A tiny fraction of the population has a truly deathly reaction to bee stings, but often bee-sting allergies develop over time and you don’t want to be caught off guard.
4. Assign Jobs Ahead Of Time
Everyone should have a pre-assigned job and be ready to work on beekeeping day. If you’re working the hive with your children present, make sure you have another adult handy for safety’s sake. Here are some sample jobs for children to try their hand at while learning bee keeping:
- holding the smoker
- spraying agitated bees with honey water to calm them
- using the hive tool to loosen outside and underneath propolis
- gently brushing bees from honey frames with the bee brush
- retrieving the queen cage after initially hiving the bees
- placing new, clean racks in the hive and removing full honey frames
- inspecting for mites, hive beetles or other invaders
- observing other pollinators in the garden and keeping tabs on how they interact with the honeybees
- pouring honey water into the feeder when it’s in use
- replacing the lid of the hive carefully
- wrapping the hive in winter and placing rodent guards at the entrance
- cleaning out the smoker after use
- cleaning and storing equipment
- uncapping the honey
- turning the extractor handle and holding the containers beneath the spigot during honey processing
- taste-testing honey (a very important job!)
Of course, as children mature, these jobs can increase in importance and the budding beekeeper can be a real asset each time you work the hive.
The best way for our homestead kids to learn to value this lifestyle is for them to be at our side in everything we do; they don’t have to love it all, they just need to know the basics of how to do it all. More than anything our children need to know that they’re valued members of our family team. We needn’t worry too much if the tasks aren’t accomplished the exact way we would accomplish them—the important thing is that our children share in these experiences with us. These are the times we very naturally communicate our love and respect for nature. Our children will pick up on that and it will be an easy part of our family culture, something that will carry on into our grandchildren’s lives. All that from a humble honeybee.
Learn more about beekeeping on HobbyFarms.com:
- Month-By-Month Beekeeping
- 5 Tips For The Lazy Beekeeper
- 4 Ways To Keep Bees More Naturally
- Langstroth Vs. Top-Bar: Which Hive Is Better?