Bees, and honeybees in particular, usually top the list of pollinators young children are exposed to when learning about our natural environments. While they’re certainly important to our agricultural systems, it’s important for young children to learn about the diversity of pollinators responsible for the food on our tables and in our ecosystems.
Birds, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, wasps, bats, and even mosquitos are all pollinators that contribute to balance in our ecosystems. Learning about all this diversity responsible for the health and growth of our fruiting plants and crops helps children appreciate the interconnectedness of the natural world around them.
That base knowledge can also help children better understand why it’s important to address challenges faced by pollinators. Pesticides, habitat loss, climate change, and introducing non-native species into environments can all disrupt that delicate balance. The activities below are aimed at preschoolers to start developing an appreciation for all pollinators early on.
Scavenger hunts are a fun way to identify pollinators in the immediate environment. Take students on a nature walk to look for bees, butterflies, and birds you’ve introduced in the classroom. Include flower species supported by these local pollinator populations that you know will be easy to identify outdoors. Turn your scavenger hunt into a multi-sensory experience by not just looking for various pollinators but listening for them too. In the Sounds Around activity from Trees & Me: Activities for Exploring Nature with Young Children, children listen and talk about the different sounds they hear and then create their own nature concert by using their bodies and voices to make different sounds like the buzzing of a bee or chirping of a bird.
Bees need water just as much as birds or other critters. They don’t just use water for hydration, either. Water from bee baths like in the activity below can help them cool their hives on hot days and dilute the honey they feed their larvae. You only need rocks and a shallow dish for starters, and the children can either incorporate them into a classroom garden or bring them home.
This fun activity is a great way to get kids moving on a warm day. All you need are cups of water, or “nectar,” ice cube trays, and some imagination to have kids race to fill up their trays as busy little bees. A little food coloring can make filling those trays easier to track. This can be a fun group activity if you have a class large enough for relays.
Pollen Counting Activity
Practice simple math skills and teach children about the important role of worker bees with this counting activity. Use yellow poms or other soft materials as pollen and empty egg cartons as the hive. For a math component, use a die to determine how many poms are transferred each turn. Use tweezers rather than fingers for a fine motor challenge.
Pollination STEM Activity
Teach students about the delicate dance involved with pollen transfer in a hands-on way using pipe cleaners, mac and cheese powder, and a few additional craft supplies. The pipe cleaners stand in for the legs of their pollinator of choice. (It doesn’t have to be bees!) Very young students may need support around building their models, so feel free to simplify as needed.
Tap into your students’ kinesthetic side with a series of themed yoga poses that mimic their favorite pollinators. The “bee pose,” for example, is having kids stretch out their arms and lean from side to side like a flying bee. As you’re working with preschoolers, we love the idea of incorporating sound with this one, especially with buzzing bees.
Pollinator-Themed Story Stones
Children in the pre-writing phase can still learn about story elements like character, structure, and plot with story stones. Make stories pollinator-themed by decorating stones with flowers, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators you’ve been learning about in the classroom. Flat stones work best as a painting or coloring surface.
Pollinator Brain Break
Transitions in a preschool classroom can be challenging. Get students up and moving in between content areas with musical brain breaks. Introduce or reinforce the importance of pollinators by having children move like bees, butterflies, bats, or any other pollinators they’ve learned about to music.
Bee Message Dance
This is another fun way to incorporate movement throughout the day. Teach your students that there’s so much meaning underneath a bee’s movements, especially when they’re back at the hive. A waggle dance, for example, is used to communicate nectar nearby. Have students come up with their own coded dances and teach them to the rest of the group if they’d like.
Flying Bats STEM Activity
Bats are pollinators, too! While birds and bees and other winged insects work during the day, bats work to pollinate fragrant plants visible at night. Use this bat craft activity to create flying bats, then take it a step further to fly bats around the classroom on the hunt for nectar. The book Stellaluna is a great tie-in for this one.
Hummingbirds are built for pollination thanks to their long bills and tongues. Use these printable templates to create colorful hummingbirds as a way to reinforce animal adaptations. Talk about the flowers they prefer — that’s typically brightly-colored, tubular flowers — to give them the energy they need.
Much like bats, many moths are important pollinators after the sun goes down. (Some work during the day, too, so consider an expansion activity around this idea.) This activity uses students’ foraging skills to create moths out of pinecones and paper. Students can get creative with their designs if they’d like, especially if they’d like to test out the speediest wing shapes.
Flower Matching Game
Pollinators need flowers to do their important work. Introduce students to different types of flowers preferred by pollinators with a flower matching game. This activity includes ready-made printables, but you can take it up a notch to incorporate flowers native to your area.
Paper Plate Flowers Activity
Add fine motor practice with this paper flowers activity that can make use of recycled materials. Paper plates are the base of this activity, but students can get creative with whatever available scraps or pieces of tissue paper they can find to make their projects more colorful. Bright colors are a signal to many pollinators, after all.
Pollinators aren’t just important in keeping flowers pretty. They’re a key component in many of our crops and the fruits and veggies we eat. Do some research around pollinator plants native to your area then lead children in hands-on planting activities to encourage pollinator activity. These can be plants they take home or plant in a school garden.
Parts of a Bee
Teach about the different parts of a bee and practice simple counting skills with this count-and-clip activity. Before they get to work, have students think about uses for different bee body parts, especially which body parts are important to pollination. (Hint: It’s all of them!) Use clothespins as an easy way to track student responses.
Butterfly Life Cycle
It’s hard work becoming a butterfly. Teach children about how this important pollinator gets from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly using pictures of a butterfly’s life cycle. If you’re in a community with plentiful butterflies, bring students outside to appreciate the work they do and hopefully catch them in action.
Fruit Tasting Activity
While some fruit trees are self-pollinating, many rely on pollinators to survive, thrive, and grow all of delicious fruits we enjoy. In The Shape of Things activity from Trees & Me: Activities for Exploring Nature with Young Children, little learners make and eat fruit kabobs using fruit cut into different shapes. This is a fun way to turn snack time into an extended lesson on fruits produced through pollination with a fruit tasting activity. Blueberries, cherries, melons, and many varieties of apples and pears are reliant on pollinators.
Subtle differences in the taste and color of honey are thanks to a honeybee’s diet. The flowers they feed on determine the eventual flavor for us and their larvae. (Remind students that bees don’t just make honey for our personal consumption!) Have students taste-test a few different types of honey then vote on a classroom favorite.
Introducing students to the importance of pollinators at a young age helps them develop an appreciation for even the smallest creatures in our natural world. Adding to that knowledge beyond the usual pollinators only expands that appreciation.