As the Eastern Sierra warms each spring, ESLT staff and volunteers get to work inspiring local school kids with our annual Sunflower Garden Project. This project gives elementary students the opportunity to get outside of the classroom and learn about life in their backyards. Third graders this year have learned about the life of plants: including the process of photosynthesis, the important role pollinators play, and the magic of germination. They’ve planted seeds and monitored their growth, and had lots of fun learning through educational games and activities.
As our Sunflower Garden Project with Bishop Elementary and Bishop 4-H was winding to a close for the year, Emily Underkoffler from Mammoth Elementary School contacted us about the possibility of talking to her second-grade class about bees. With the experience of launching ESLT’s Eastside Pollinator Garden Project under our belt, we eagerly agreed – knowing it would be a great opportunity to help teach the importance of pollinators to our next generation.
Little did we know that we would leave that classroom feeling just as inspired and energized by the experience as would the kids.
My fellow Education Coordinator / AmeriCorps Member Abbey Blair and I traveled to Mammoth Lakes last week to give a short presentation. Emily had already taught a week of lessons on bees, and this was clear from the moment we walked into her classroom: plastering the walls, we found bee posters, bee craft projects made by the students, and bee-related vocabulary words in both Spanish and English. This being a dual-language class, their previous lessons on bees had been entirely in Spanish. This called for a bit of a refresher on my part, but with Emily’s help I was able to pin down some basics – colmena, miel, cera – go!
I began by showing the students a slideshow of native and honey bees, bee habitats, and factors contributing to the devastating colony collapse disorder. I expected this presentation to take 15 minutes, but then the kids started absolutely buzzing with questions.
Even before I was able to talk about planting flowers or not using pesticides, one student raised his hand to ask, “What can we do to help bees?” This level of concern over the insects’ well-being was a theme we heard over and over during the course of our time spent with the class.
“Do certain pollinators like certain types of flowers?” One student asked. “How do pesticides hurt bees?” Probed another. I was thrilled to provide them with the answers they were searching for.
Later on, Abbey and I took the students out to the playground. Abbey taught about pollination through a hands-on activity, and I played a bee communication game with them called the “Waggle Dance.” All in all, their enthusiasm was contagious – we had a fantastic time sharing our knowledge and leading them on the course of discovery.
During our time spent with that class, multiple students came up to me to share about how their mother, grandfather, or other close mentor had planted flowers in his or her yard – and with the kids’ help. These young gardeners were eager to show that not only did they know about the importance of bees, but that they were ready to build solutions that would keep the bees buzzing around their backyards for many years to come.
As our final Sunflower Garden Party wrapped up and the kids headed off for summer vacation, we couldn’t help but feel that we’d ended our 2015 Sunflower Garden Project on a high note. We are so thankful to Emily and our other participating teachers for their enthusiasm about pollinators, and for teaching their pupils about how important it is that we keep our bee populations healthy. And to all you parents out there: thank you for all you do to inspire your children about the magic of the natural world in this beautiful region we are so lucky to call home.
Until next time – let’s keep the buzz alive!