Would You Let Your Child Try Beekeeping?

Chow on 05.13.11
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Image credit: Sami Grover

In general, we parents can be pretty protective of our kids. So you'd think that putting them in close proximity to thousands of stinging insects would be a no-no for most parents. And in some ways, your be right. Bees get a pretty bad (and bee advocates say undeserved) rap, and many parents would probably freak out at the idea of their little loved ones trying their hand at beekeeping.

A Growing Interest in Bees

But with the mysterious deaths of bees that have been hitting the headlines, most commonly referred to as Colony Collapse Disorder, there has also been an increased awareness of, and interest in, the central role that bees play in our food systems. (Bees are responsible for pollinating a large portion of the food crops we all rely on for survival.) As Discovery launches a network-wide push on bee-related coverage entitled Bees on the Brink, I got to wondering whether there are ways that kids and bees can interact safely. After all, if we want our kids to explore the farmers' market and to try their hand at gardening, why wouldn't we also want to introduce them to one of humankind's oldest and most useful companions from the animal kingdom?

It turns out I am not the only one thinking about this stuff.

Beekeeping from Age Five

University of California's 4-H Youth Development Program is a prime example of how bees can help teach children social skills. The 4-H beekeeping with children program starts teaching children beekeeping at the age of 5, tackling everything from bee life cycles to building a bee hive. but it also includes practical, hands on experience of managing a beehive.

Bees as Agents of  Emotional Development

But learning beekeeping is about more than understanding biology, or the intricacies of our food system. Because bees respond to the emotional signals of a beekeeper (most beekeepers will tell you to never open up a hive if you are in a bad mood!), beekeeping can also be a great learning process when it comes to patience, stress and anger management. In fact - while I hate to draw a direct parallel between young kids and criminals - there are numerous programs that teach beekeeping to inmates as vocational training and therapy rolled into one.

Safety Tips for Beekeeping with Children

Of course nobody should let kids near a hive without careful, experienced supervision, adequate training, and putting a healthy dose of preventative emergency measures in place. Here's what the 4-H program has to say about safety:

The most important thing to remember is safety. Be sure the children are properly suited up anytime they are working directly with bees. Also caution children to handle dead bees carefully. It sounds strange but a dead bee can "sting." This actually happened to one of our young beekeepers much to his surprise. It is best to have liquid antihistamines at hand just in case of a sting. Be aware of what signs of shock to look for and treat every sting seriously. Vomiting, having to go to the toilet quickly, tingly feelings or fainting are all signs that emergency medical help needs to be called immediately.

But scary stuff aside, beekeeping really isn't as crazy or dangerous as it is made out to be. With kids' beekeeping suits starting at age 4, and being temporarily sold out, it seems fair to assume that there are lots of young beekeepers out there. We'd love to hear from anyone with experience of beekeeping with kids - positive or negative. Let us know what you know in the comments below.As a failed beekeeper myself, I have decided to get a hang of parenting before I keep bees again. But whenever I am ready to get back in the saddle, I am hoping that my daughter Lilia will be right there by my side. (Properly suited up, of course...)

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