Thursday, 11 August 2011

i-buzz: Educating Future Beekeepers?
A description of the schools visits to Twickenham Apiary that I am involved in. Because of the vital part of honeybees in ecosystems, I think that educating children about honeybees should be a greater priority than recruiting future beekeepers. Most of them wont become beekeepers, and don't need to become beekeepers. The children are urban and there are already more hives in Greater London than in the rest of the country, and there are now numerous problems with urban beekeeping. But they do need to know about honeybees, and do want to know about them. 

My agenda was to highlight the connection with, and the difference between us and bees, because this was an effective way to get children interested. Also, to get the children to appreciate their dependence on bees.
In the hide, Twickenham Apiary
Jan 2013
Are we educating future beekeepers during these school visits? Of the 700+ children that came to the Apiary last summer, how many are likely to become beekeepers? The general consensus was, not many.
This begs the question of why we teach them things that would be relevant if they were to become beekeepers, but are of no relevance if they are not, such as 

  • bee anatomy
  • brood cycle
  • hive types
  • trying on veils
  • looking at smokers
  • hive products for us, not bees
  • stings
These aspects are covered byThe BBKA Bees in the Curriculum Schools Pack, which also includes word searches and pictures to colour in, none of which really educates children about the importance of bees. As the content of our school visits reflects the content of the Schools pack, a lot of valuable time gets spent on disseminating this irrelevant information. It would be great if it could be  less focussed on beekeeping and honey, and more focussed on the sections about :
  • plants and bees 
  • pollination
  • waggle dance - not the waggle dance game, but the meaning and purpose of communication
  • inside a beehive - castes and their roles
It would be even better if it could also include sections on 
  • social characteristics - co-operation, communication etc
  • the problems for bees and the wider ecosystem
  • propolis
The questions asked, not only by the children but by teachers and parents, refer not to beekeeping, but to their concerns about the problems with bees, and bees as food pollinators.
The time we spend with the children is only an hour, and is a precious opportunity to share information that has a direct relevance to their lives, and to connect them with the natural environment. Urban children are very disconnected from the natural world. 
As beekeepers our role should be to share our valuable knowledge and give the children an insight into one part of the natural world, one that most will be unlikely to ever see again.

Like most people, children will only remember about three things from their visit, and this is borne out by their feedback forms. I try and emphasise these aspects:
  • social characteristics ('the queen is not the boss', cooperation e.g. building comb)
  • importance of communication for humans and bees - bee dance = symbolic communication unique to humans and bees
  • female and male characteristics (roles of workers/girls and drones/boys)
  • flowers and bees, symbiosis
  • pollination of our food (= variety in pollen/bees' diet/human diet)
  • honey - content, amount made by a bee, value to bees.
From Eva Crane

  • propolis - content, origin, protection value to bees, antibiotic anti-fungal properties useful for us.
  • problems for bees - us, varroa, lack of diversity, lack of forage and habitat, pesticides
  • helping bees - planting trees, increasing habitat
The format for the schools visits is very successful. The video we show is a 10 minute  edited version of 'The Dancing Bees' by Gil Sentinella. The film is good but would benefit from being purpose made for the visits, as there is some irrelevant information in there. Chris Deaves made an edited version of a David Attenborough film for older children, but it was a bit chopped about and didn't work very well.

Shaun Lamplough, who organises the school visits, gave this report on last year's visits:
Education for Schools 2013

We were lucky with the weather this year and were not interrupted on any visits.  One Home Education Group, one Holiday Club, two Nursery Schools, five Primary Schools, five Preparatory Schools, two Scout Packs, one Guide Group and one Brownie Pack came to visit.  We also visited 2 Nursery Classes.  The pupils ranged from Reception Year (5 year olds) through to Year 6 (11 year olds).   The Scout and guide groups were slightly older and the Nursery Schools younger..

Year groups can comprise up to 4 classes of 30 pupils.  Each Class saw a video about honey bees, had a question & answer session about bees, went into the hide in The Apiary where a hive was opened and the different parts of and occupants of the hive were explained and visited the Discovery Centre where they saw the boards, honeycomb, veils, smoker etc.  Each class visited the Apiary for a minimum of one hour. 

Feedback from schools and other groups was very positive.

Our target audience will continue to be Primary School pupils, but as you can see we will welcome visits from other groups.

Donations totalling £842.50 were received from our visitors and a visit from some Swedish Beekeepers in April hosted by various Committee Members produced another £50.     

The Education Team this season comprised Simon & Gill Silvester, Sally Pemberton, Avis Marshall, Candy Williamson, Karen Mann and Pamela Baxter-Hughes, Melanie Maclaine and myself.  Special thanks to Simon & Gill who appeared at every visit.

However I would be really pleased if others could offer their services.  Those taking part enjoy the visits.  You don’t need to be an expert, you will almost certainly know more than our visitors!!  Anyone who is able to help whether during school hours in the Summer Term or in evenings during late May, June and July would be most welcome.  Please contact me on

Finally the hide has come to the end of its useful life and we aim to replace it before the beginning of the Schools Summer Term 2014.

Shaun Lamplough