The birds and the bees, and other lessons

I’ve been teaching kids about the birds and the bees recently.  Lucky for me, I get to literally teach them about birds and bees and flowers and trees. 😉   My Birds and Bees lesson is a new one for me this year, so I’m still working on it, but it’s been going pretty well so far.  With the younger grades, I start off with a relatively quick lesson/discussion about what bees are, what pollen is, why pollen needs to travel from one flower to another, and why bees are such good pollinators.  We also chat about why pollinators (especially bees) are so important for our food production.  And then we head outside to play!  We start by learning how bees communicate (with a dance!) and then practice our figure-eight, bum-wiggling bee dance.  They love the bum-wiggling dance!  (Check out the bee dance here: Bee Dance)  And then it’s time for the pollination relay race, where the students are bees that need to visit flowers to gather nectar with their super long tongues (using a pipe-cleaner or straw as the bee’s proboscis), get some “pollen” (sponges) and carry it between their knees (since bees carry pollen on their hind legs) on their way back, not forgetting to do a bee dance before the next bee can take off.  They kids have really enjoyed the game, and I think it’s helped them to remember the concept of pollination as well as how bees communicate.  They also tend to walk away from the activity for a bigger appreciation for bees and how they’re not just evil bugs that sting us.

With the older students, I started the lesson off in a similar way, but with them we also talk a bit more about different types of pollinators (hummingbirds, butterflies, moths, wind…) and how flowers and pollinators have adapted to one another.  Instead of the relay race, we make pipe-cleaner insects and paper-cup flowers, and test how effective their insects are as pollinators.  If their “pollinators” aren’t effective at first, they have a chance to adapt them to make them a better fit for the “flower”.

My pollinator lesson with the younger kids is largely based on a lesson plan from FoodShare.  (The lesson plan I’ve been using is the Grade 1 Pollination Patrol activity, which is available here: Eat In Ontario Workshop Outlines)  The one I do with the older grades was inspired by an activity available from Nature’s Partners (where there are tons of pollination lesson plans).

Letting the sage go to bloom to attract some pollinators to the garden - there have been lots!

Another lesson I really enjoy teaching is composting.  Composting is super fascinating (so much life in those bins!), and it’s also a really direct way for me to combine my environmental passion with my passion for food.   The kids are often grossed-out at first by the thought of going and inspecting the compost bins, but end up being pretty fascinated by all of the different critters that live in the compost and have lots of questions about what the different critters are (something I have to get better at identifying!), how long composting takes, etc.  I usually start my compost lessons with the widely used Apple Earth activity.  In this activity, I have an apple to represent the Earth, which I cut up to represent different areas of the Earth where food cannot be grown, ending up with the peel of 1/32nd of the whole apple/planet which represents the available topsoil for food production.  (Searching for “Apple Earth activity” gives lots of sites that describe this activity in detail.)  This is a great lead-in for why it is important to preserve and protect what little soil we have left.  One of the ways we can help to keep this soil healthy is by composting!

In the Spiderweb Garden, we’re really lucky to have a multi-bin composting system, maintained by Toronto’s compost guru, who happens to live down the street.  We have a 3-bin system for the composting process, and then a few big black compost bins for storing the finished and sifted compost.  When I go to check out the bins with the kids, we start at the first bin (where fresh stuff goes in) and observe the colours and smells.  At the 2nd and 3rd bins, we observe differences between that one and the previous one(s): we look at how in the first bin, there were lots of things we could identify, but further along, there are few things we can identify (though some things don’t get fully decomposed in their first or second round through the bins, so we might still see things like corn cobs and peach pits in the last bin).  Also, the 2nd and 3rd bins are a lot less colourful than the first one.  And the 2nd and 3rd bins have LOTS of life in them – I often lose the kids for a few minutes to screams of “I saw a potato bug! I see a worm!  What was that slithery thing!?! …”  It’s super cool too, when I can dig into the 2nd bin and see steam rising from it and have the kids feel how warm it is in there.  Sometimes I’ll also add some compost sifting to this part of the lesson.  When I did this activity with a class a couple of weeks ago, I divided them into groups (’cause having a whole class around the bins at one time would have been too much), so while they weren’t at the bins, I had them look through a couple of buckets of compost with drawings/lists of different compost critters and have them try to identify what they found.

Other lessons I’ve done with classes this spring have included Meeting Worms (which I’ve already told you all about), Where does food come from? (still trying to figure out a good lesson plan for younger grades), Food Miles (with older grades who understand maps and distances),  Mapping a Meal (tracing all of our foods back to plants and discussing where these plants come from – combined with Food Miles), Sprouting (growing sprouts in classrooms and tasting them a few days later, combined with a seed lesson), Shapes in Nature (finding geometric shapes in nature in the schoolyard and the garden), Soil Studies (with older grades, checking out soil composition in different parts of the schoolyard), and Five Senses in the Garden (scavenger hunt type activities using all senses, including some tasting in the garden).  Among the lessons I haven’t happened to do this year, I have a role-playing game about heirloom veggies (grades 5/6), Three Sisters Garden, The Garden Habitat and probably a few others. If you want any details about any of these lessons, let me know.  You can also check out my Books page and I’ll post some links soon for some lesson plans.

As I’ve said before, I’m really hoping to have the chance to develop and research more curriculum-linked activities, as well as to get to know the curriculum better so that I can better cater the activities to the needs of the teachers and students.  I actually get really excited when a teacher e-mails me with a list of curriculum links they’d like me to make with an activity, or even better, when I get together with teachers to develop activities!

Happy growing!


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