The rather frigid nature of our Spring this year may have you thinking twice about the season (although the shot above from local mom Krista gives me hope). But, even as we continue to scrape the occasional frost off of our windshields in the mornings, Mother Nature is waking her kiddos up from their long Winter’s sleep, dusting them off and getting them ready for the heavy lifting.
It’s hard to miss the news about pollinators inexplicably dieing off resulting in decimated food crops and now becoming one of THE major ecological concerns for environmental groups around the globe.
There’s good reason for the uproar.
Roughly 30 percent of all of the food we eat is the result of pollinators. If bees, butterflies and hummingbirds disappear, our food sources shrink dramatically.
The Canadian Wildlife Federation has chosen National Wildlife Week (April 6-12) to highlight the plight of these amazing creatures that serve as a keystone to the global ecosystem.
For many kids, bees have been vilified as a creature to fear and ultimately kill. With so much at stake, now is a great opportunity to take a look at these guys, along with their more docile pollinating partners the butterflies and the hummingbirds, from the perspective of explorers – getting to know them and lending a hand in helping them survive.
We are spending this week taking families on a tour of the coolness that is the universe of pollinators. We’ll have a lesson in how to build a nature journal from scratch, backyard learning adventures, recipes and even a fun tutorial on how to build a bee garden from local mason bee conservationist Carla Pedersen.
I’m no bee expert. So, you should know that everything here comes from the CWF National Wildlife Week resources, the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign curriculum and the Smithsonian Education pollinator curriculum – all available to you on the web, and packed full of great learning tools for backyard education.
Looking forward to the discussions, ideas and questions you all have as we take a look at our backyards and open spaces through pollinator-friendly eyes.
Here’s the extremely abbreviated crash course on pollinators:
* Fact: Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are the big three in the pollinator universe, pollinating a majority of flowers in Canada, and are even necessary for the survival of the firs and cedars that dominate our forests.
* Fact: Flowering plants and their pollinators form a symbiotic partnership in which plants develop characteristics that attract pollinators and pollinators have adapted through evolution to make their jobs most efficient.
* Fact: Pollen can’t move on its own. Insects and birds do about 80 percent of the work. Wind, water and other agents do the rest.
* Fact: The more pollinators in a given area reflects the general health of a local ecosystem.
* Fact: Habitat for pollinators has been significantly decreased by urban development, pesticides, disease and climate change, putting us all at risk.
Knowing that, it’s no surprise that the blooming of flowers in the garden and the return of our flying friends makes Spring a truly spectacular time of year. It’s all about new life and watching it all unfold is amazing.
I often find myself sitting out in the backyard, or on our front porch, on a sunny afternoon lately watching the bees dig in to our blooms, not even thinking the tiny person and I could be learning something from it all.
It’s so cool to watch.
Now, we can watch with a purpose.
Even kiddos as young as preschoolers can get into the act of getting to know bees, birds and butterflies this season through the simple act of observation.
First, download the Observation Sheet PDF from the NAPPC.
This sheet gives you a great way to keep track of the insects, what they are up to, what kinds of flowers they’re hanging out on and other details that, for preschoolers, can really focus in on shapes, colours and creatures while school-aged kiddos can get more into the science of it all in explorer mode. It also can be one of your kiddos first additions to their homemade nature journal, which we will give a tutorial for on Friday.
The recommendation is to pick one spot in your yard (like a 5X5 patch) or open space like The Filberg or Kitty Coleman Woodland Gardens for a definite emphasis on blooms and focus on it instead of moving from place to place. That way you can get a good idea of what kind of creatures a certain flower attracts, you get a chance to really see how pollination takes place and you have the opportunity to chat about what’s happening.
Ten minutes in a spot is more than likely the maximum for any younger tiny person. Older kiddos can take 20 minutes a location and even take a digital or disposable camera to document activity around certain flowers.
TIP: Long sleeves and jeans, as well as wearing muted colours, is best for pollinator watching in terms of safety and not wanting to steel the show from the flowers (pollinators love bright colours). Also, don’t get too close. Give the insects 2 or 3 meters to work with, keeping your observers that far from the plants.
I found quickly that this activity seems way less like school and more like a cool creature adventure, making it a great initial foray into the study of pollination, getting to know your backyard in a way that sparks imagination, belays fears and promotes a sense of conservation. We spent a really long time pretty much just running around the backyard and, in the end, this allows for some serious playtime on the road to discovery.
What I also discovered was that the bees that our daughter has been terrified of since getting stung by a wasp last Summer are quickly becoming her friends. After a visit to a mason bee keeper’s house last week, she now wants to make sure we have a place to “keep the bees safe” at our house this Summer.
I’m excited by the prospect, beyond the cool learning process, since our apple tree blossoms sure could use a boost of the pollinating kind this year (the more pollination, the bigger the apple) and our blueberry bushes need some friends.
She’s excited because we have plans to build bee, butterfly and hummingbird gardens…and the kiddo is convinced the result will mean all of the wasps will get a good talking to for being so mean.