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Bee Curious

Originally appears in the Spring 2015 issue

“Why are bees in the flowers?”

Countless children have asked me this question.  With each child, I squat down next to them, slip my glasses down my nose, lift the brim of my hat, widen my eyes, and say, “I wonder about that.”  Often there is a long pause as the child expects an explanation.  Then I say, “Tell me what you think. What do you notice?”

The small purple thyme flowers in the landscaping around the sandpits at Harker Preschool are a favorite of honeybees.  The children make amazing observations of these busy insects while outside at play.  That pause in play—to wonder at the flight of a bee or at its milling about in a flower—this is powerful science.  Not just any kind of science, this is inquiry-based science because it is driven by innate curiosity.

Young children are natural scientists because they want to understand the world around them.  By levering their curiosity, I am able to extend something they wonder about into an investigation.  You might ask me, “Why not simply read them a book that tells about bees and bee behavior?”  It is a fair question.   Certainly, I referenced many books about bees in our honeybee investigation.  But the primary way the young child learns is through imitative play.  She needs to be the bee!

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Robyn Stone is an instructor in the early childhood education department of the University of California, Santa Cruz Extension.  She is also the STEM Specialist at Harker Preschool in San Jose, CA.


“The Big Bee Bummer Blog.”

Center for Food Safety

Packer, L. “Keeping the Bees:  Why All Bees Are At Risk and What We Can Do to Save Them.” (New York:  Harper, 2010).

Pesticide Action Network of North America

Planet Bee Foundation

“Play:  It’s the Way Young Children Learn.”

“Play and Early Learning”

“Why Bees Are Disappearing.”

Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation


[i] “NSTA/NAEYC Position Statement: Early Childhood Science Education.”


[iii] Kessler, et al.  “Bees Prefer Foods Containing Neonicitinoid Pesticides.”

[iv] “Fact Sheet:  The Economic Challenge Posed by Declining Pollinator Populations”