I stood with ten first graders around a massive sunflower. The flower, fallen under the weight of its head in a recent storm, bowed petals-first again the grass. We turned over the flower, and gasps of surprise and delight echoed across the farm. Making their way across the pollen-covered surface were no less that five different insects: two types of bees, two beetles, and one we couldn't identify. We had spent the last fifteen minutes "dissecting" flowers, talking about pollination, and I-spying bees in the flower beds, and this was the perfect ending. Eager faces nudged in closer. Beneath the pollen-dusted insects, we could see sunflower seeds beginning to swell and turn black.
"I don't like bees, but I like them on the farm!," one first grader declared.
If I had to choose one topic that brought everything in the school garden together, it would be pollinators. Here is why:
- Pollinators help kids see that growing food is not an isolated process - pollinators and plants need each other. They are ecology in motion.
- Most pollinators are small. Watching them helps children take a closer look, and they begin to feel appreciation and wonder over fear.
- Pollinators are everywhere. Inviting native pollinators to your garden is simple, and benefits plants and well as learners.
- Pollinators are en entry point for talking about diversity. One sign of a healthy, thriving garden is how many different pollinators live there.
- Taking action to improve pollinator habitat is a wonderful service project for students. Butterfly gardens and native bee houses benefit your garden, your neighbor's gardens, and the health of the planet.
- Pollinators include honey bees. While they are not native to Wisconsin, they remain a captivating learning opportunity. They can also open the door to some of the "big questions" about our food system that students may have heard about, but do not yet fully understand. And, eating honey is fun.
As an adult, I am inspired by childrens' reactions when they discover a bee. They are excited, observant, and sometimes afraid - but they are always fully tuned in. I hope to bring that kind of fascination and focus into the work that I do, helping them make those discoveries. In this newsletter, you will find a collection of resources for incorporating pollinators - and pollinator education - into your outdoor classroom space. I hope you find it useful!