Once again, our activities this week are inspired by a book, this time it is The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe (Scientists in the Field Series) by Loree Griffin Burns and photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz. (We also used Loree Burn’s Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion for activities in a previous post). Check Wrapped in Foil for a review of the book.hive-detectives

You may have heard on the news that honey bees are disappearing. The Hive Detectives follows the research of four scientists trying to figure out what is going on, as well as discussing a lot of general information about honey bees.

In the 1990’s I co-authored a set of lesson plans about honey bees, called “Africanized Honey Bees on the Move” for the University of Arizona. At the time the Africanized honey bees had just moved into Arizona, and many people were concerned about them. The lesson plans have a number of hands-on activities to do with many aspects of honey bee biology. If you go to a grade level, it will list appropriate lessons. Each lesson has links to activity and information sheets. Many of the lessons can be adapted to mixed-age groups.

Here are some honey bee-related activities and links:

1. Gardening for bees

Honey bees require pollen and nectar from flowers in order to survive. One simple activity is to investigate what kinds of bee-friendly plants grow in your area and have your children design and plant a bee garden.

You may wonder if encouraging honey bees to visit flowers in an area with children might be dangerous. It turns out that bees collecting food, called foraging bees, are not likely to sting unless they are stepped on, caught or otherwise threatened. This might not be an appropriate activity, however, for children who are allergic to bees.

(The first two websites were recommended in the book).

Pollinator.org has free planting guides to help you find appropriate plants.

And don’t forget the Great Sunflower Project mentioned in a previous post.

These flowering plants help all kinds of pollinators, not just honey bees.

2. Honey bees and water


Any idea what these bees are doing?

Honey bees need a lot of water, especially in the summer. They use the water to cool inside the hive, to prevent the wax honeycomb from melting. You can see the tongue, called a proboscis, sucking up the water at the edge of this lily pad.

Getting water can be dangerous business for a honey bee. Honey bees often end up falling in, like the ones you see in swimming pools. Can you design a safe place for honey bees to gather water to add to your garden?

3. Honey bee communication and dances.

One of my favorite lessons was always doing the honey bee waggle dances as a way of learning how honey bees communicate.

Dancing under a polarized sky also has a lot of information about honey bee dances.

4. Honey bee senses

Honey bees perceive the world in a way that is very different from humans.

Honey bee senses lesson

What a bee sees

5. Honey bee and other bee nests

Investigate where honey bees live, where beekeepers keep bees and what it is like inside a hive.

The Insect Architects post has a some information about honey bee homes.

You can supply nest sites for other kinds of bees.


I don’t know whether you can read it, but the sign says “Digger Bee Nest Site.” We have left a patch of soil for the tiny digger bees to nest in.

The solitary and social bees lesson has a explanation of the different kinds of bees and how to construct an orchard mason bee nest.


There are a lot of ways to use honey bees as examples for science and nature lessons. Please let me know if you would like more information about any of these activities or if you have found a great website that helps children learn about honey bees.

Books to help you find out more (linked images and titles go to Amazon):

In addition to The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe (Scientists in the Field Series),

you might be interested in these other books about bees from a precious post:
For young children you might want to try The Magic School Bus Inside a Beehive

Are You a Bee? (Backyard Books) is an intriguing book that compares humans and honey bees in an informative and gently humorous way.

The Bumblebee Queen by April Pulley Sayre (Author), Patricia J. Wynne (Illustrator) is a positively gorgeous book, chock full of good information. Any child who is interested in bees will love this book.

A Country Year: Living the Questions by Sue Hubbell has some interesting tidbits on keeping honey bees, although it is about many other aspects of the natural world as well. A few of the chapters can some information that could be considered adult, such as she briefly discusses her divorce. You might want to read it first to determine if it is suitable for your older children. I have to say my son and I love it and I read it to him almost every summer (a summer tradition).

A Book of Bees: And How to Keep Them by Sue Hubbell contains a lot more technical information about beekeeping. There are many other books about beekeeping available, but this one warms my heart because it also shows more of the human side of the experience.

Plus visit our growing list of children’s books about honey bees at Science Books for Kids.

Note: the book that inspired this post was found at our local library.