My dream is to bring a hive of bees to school for a pre-Rosh Hashanah exploration. Or even better, to bring the kids to a hive, especially to a hive nestled near an organic garden. Until then, I have to make do with dead bees, honeycomb and honey in the art room.
We used these specimens as models for two classes this year:
1) as a visual reference when making thumbprint bees for Shana Tova cards and
2) as discussion starters for an Apple and Honey Blessings Practice and Taste Test.
Two are honey bees (Apis mellifera) my friend found dead near her box hives, and one is a big ol’ Eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica) that had expired in the act of pollinating a Passionvine flower.
I provide the carpenter bee for contrast. Both the honey bee and the carpenter bee collect flower nectar to regurgitate for their broods, but the honey bee does so collectively as a social insect, as part of a hive, a commune or, say, a kibbutz. The carpenter bee takes care of it’s own little nest, which hopefully isn’t gouged in the wood right above your screen door. The carpenter is also a native bee—one of about 4,000 species in North America—whereas the honey bee is from Europe. Both bees are invaluable pollinators of nearly every damn bloom going, and all bee numbers are in decline because of pesticide use.
Rather than depress the kids with too much information about poisoned bees, I tell them we’ll be planting pollinator-friendly flowers—with nary a pesticide nor herbicide—later in the year (for Havdalah work, see that link here).
In class, my dead bees were great discussion starters about types of bees, what bees eat, where honey comes from, bee defenses, the decline of bee populations, what bees do for plants and so on.
We also talked about the other type of honey mentioned in the Torah: date honey. I included whole dates and date honey when we had our Rosh Hashanah apple/honey preview. (With older kids, it would fun to look at the texts and figure out which honey is which.)
Do try, try, try to provide real honeycomb when you present honey to the class. Scooping it out of the jar, inspecting it, noting the shape of the cells (count the sides!), talking about how the cells are made and what for, and then slicing off little chunks for nibbles—is so fun and delicious. And unforgettable. (By the way, good beekeepers always leave enough comb in the hive for the bees. . . )
If you can get hold of dead bees (see link below) and wish to preserve them, hand sanitizer is awfully handy. An old spice jar or tiny jam jar is fine. My beekeeping friend told me about this trick, and that you can position the wings, etc. with a toothpick or needle in situ. (Kids love to see the infamous honeybee stinger.) To avoid bubbles, heat the vial and sanitizer first, but I skipped that step and just pulled out each bubble with an unfolded paper clip.
The Dragonfly Woman has this good tutorial about preserving insects in hand sanitizer.
If you need help finding dead bees, ask your local beekeeping association for advice. A nearby beekeeper may be happy to supply your classroom with a few specimens.
For info about native pollinators, try the Xerces Society for Insect Conservation. They are amazing. Look under their Resource tab for fact sheets, lists of pollinator plants by region, DIY bee homes, bee facts, etc.
How to preserve bees in hand sanitizer: The Dragonfly Woman’s tutorial, here.
My Rosh Hashanah Apples and Honey Blessings Practice and Taste Test, here.