This year, kindergarten students have been studying food, gardens, and farms as a theme. Collaborating with other teachers, we have been exploring our theme through all sorts of activities. These explorations have fueled a deep curiosity about bees. As our bee project unfolds, it is a wonderful example of progressive education in action.

I’ve had the good fortune to twice go with colleagues to Opal School in Portland and strengthen our practice around Reggio Emila-inspired pedagogy. From these visits I learned more about how playful inquiry informs project learning and best matches the ways young children learn. It provides the “high challenge, low risk” state of mind that deepens student learning, sustains their interest, connects science with art, imagination with facts, and ensures the wonder and joy of learning.

It’s vital to make curricular decisions based on observations of students’ questions, interests, and passions.  Following my kindergartener class’ growing interest about bees is a great example of how I can, as a their teacher,  tap into their natural curiosity and their desire to make meaning.

“We know from research that the brain’s weakest function is the retention of isolated bits of data. Its strongest function is the retention of pattern, narrative, story, and system. The brain is a patterning organ, and it thrives on making connections.” Parker Palmer said it best in recent article in The Sun magazine

Exploring: Outings & Field Trips

My kindergarten class has gone on lots of outings this fall.  We’ve done a series of walking field trips to the community garden down the street and went on two field farm trips. We visited the senior residents of our neighboring Hi-Rise and learned about their new raised garden beds.

We spend lots of time in the school side yard right outside our classroom.

Environmental Education Coordinator Kris and kindergartners at the community garden down the streets.
Environmental Education Coordinator Kris and kindergartners at the community garden down the street.

Extending Ideas & Making Connections

After each outing, students used art materials such as paper, glue, wax sticks, oil pastels, corn shucks and corn kernels to extend their ideas and make more connections about their learning experiences. We focused on how to “use the materials to tell a story about their farm and food experience.”

Students discuss farm filed trips
Students discuss farm field trips
Making art together after an outing.
Making art together after an outing.

Discussing & Wondering

The next day, during our morning meeting, students continued to think about farms, food, and gardens. I asked them to focus on some of the things they had learned on outings. I asked them what direction they were interested in to further their studies.

I had my ideas from discussions with our art teacher Laura and our environmental education coordinator Kris. But I tossed the ball to the children. After talking about dairy cows, broccoli, corn shucking, winter prep for gardens, and a host of other topics, the conversation narrowed to cooking and bees.

I asked :

  • “What did you notice at the community gardens, farms, or Hi-Rise about food?
  • “Where does food come from?
  • “What do you wonder about when you think about growing food?”

Student thoughts:

  • “I like going to farms because sometimes we get to taste the food.” Edie
  • “You can plant food in your own garden.” Obie
  •  “You can eat plant things from a pot.” Ben
  • “ You can plant things in beds on the ground.” Zora
  •  “ You can plant wherever you want to plant things.” Harper
  •  “But you can’t grow things in winter, they’ll die.” Fiona
  • “Yes, spring would be best.” Zora
  • “You could plant seeds inside, in the winter.” Grael
  • “Yes, plant things, water, let the sun shine on them—then they will grow for spring.” Obie

Kris asked: “What do you need to do to help plants outside get ready for the winter?” This led to a discussion of harvesting remaining food, cutting plants back, and composting.

Marshall: “We have been to gardens, farms, and even planted seeds inside, what are you interested in learning more about on the subject of food, farms, and gardens?”

Many students raised their hands and numerous students inquired about the beehives we saw at the Land School and the Community Garden.

Ben said, “How do the bees survive in the winter?” Macy raised her hand theorizing that, “Some boy bees die—most girls stay alive, like the Queen.”

“What happens to the hive? How do they stay warm?”

As transition time came, the curiosity and energy for more bee studies was clear. This launched a project that still is thriving with many unanswered questions and a great deal of desire to learn more.

Collaborating Across Curriculum

“What’s happening at the bee hive today?”

This is a question I have asked at many morning meetings recently and received excited, animated answers. Here are more ways the kindergarten class has continued to study bees through a rich collaboration of teachers, parents, and students.

Sharing honeycomb from a family's beehive.
Sharing honeycomb from a family’s beehive.

Gita (Arunata’s mom) had sent a honeycomb slat from her hive with her daughter to share with the class. I invited Gita to morning meeting to talk about her  beekeeping experience. She brought her bee mask and hat, smoker, and a wax honeycomb and two types of honey to taste. Students reveled in stories of Gita’s setting up the hive and asked many questions.

Tasting honey
Tasting honey
Kindergarteners tasted buckwheat and dandelion honey and graphed what their favorite taste was.
Kindergarteners tasted buckwheat and dandelion honey and graphed their favorites.
Trying on a beekeeper's hat
Trying on a beekeeper’s hat

Amidst high student interest in learning about bees, I set up a small table with geometric pattern blocks that students used to build a model of a hive using a honeycomb slat sent by Gita. Soon about a hundred yellow hexagons formed the hive for the kindergarteners’ imaginations and play.

Building a hive from pattern blocks
Building a hive from pattern blocks

They searched bee books and set out to find other pattern blocks to represent eggs, pupa, larva, and adult bees. I soon realized that information I read the previous day was the source of their rich, imaginative dramatizations the next morning at the hive. Cries of “Alert! Alert! Robber bees! And Guard bees! Guard bees,” was followed by a flourish of activity as students holding their bees (red trapezoids) acted out new learning.

Another day glass beads were being added to represent pollen gathered by the bees, the next day the hive would be abandoned to the queen with her eggs. Every day would bring a new exploration, often based on the day’s previous reading or discussions. Students were passionate about learning and hungry for more.

The bee project took on a many other dimensions as collaboration with teachers around the project continued. Laura, (art teacher) offered explorations in class and during art class such as making beeswax sticks, drawing a beehive mural for dramatic play, large scale bee drawings, and working with ink and watercolors to further their representations of bee life. Bee words, (hive, queen, pollen, larva, pupa, etc.) illustrated by students, hang on the walls. They are currently making beeswax lanterns with Laura.

Drawing bees

clay bee
Making beeswax lanterns with art teacher Laura

Andrew, (librarian) Linda, (P.E. teacher) and Kris (EE Teacher) have also contributed their expertise by sharing bee books, field trips, and aiding student learning by setting up Nova clips about bee communication, and other information about bees.

Linda set up yoga mats in the gym. We all worked with Kitty (Obie’s grandma) on yoga poses and ended with an bees buzzing with low hums, hands clasped to their ears, around other students and adults in tree poses. It became a kind of performance art experience that was powerful to behold.

During a recent art residency, students worked with Annie Enneking on a play about bees. They learned and acted out a story from Greek Mythology about Zeus and his introduction to honey, as well as created scenes for a “bee play” casting characters, creating setting, and finding the dramatic expression of their bee knowledge.

Artist in Residence Annie Enneking leads students in drama exercises about bees.
Artist in Residence Annie Enneking leads students in a play about bees.

Where will the next ideas or inspiration take the students around this rich theme? I don’t know, but am excited and happy to be a part of this rich project work. I will keep you posted.


Thank you to everyone involved, especially Laura who integrated art experiences and materials in the kindergarten classroom and during her art classes.

  • Laura, Art Teacher
  • Kris, Environmental Education Coordinator
  • Annie, Artist in Residence
  • Linda, Phy Ed Teacher
  • Andrew, Library & Media Specialist
  • kindergarten students, parents, and grandparents