Gormanston 2001
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It is possible to involve young people in beekeeping...

  By Sr. Mary Catherine Duffy, of Mercy Convent, Ardee, Eire.

This group of pages has been prepared with the permission and help of Sr. Catherine and Sr. Monica. A similar text appeared in the Feb 2002 issue of An Beachaire magazine. My reason for including this page on the website is simple... I was a member of the audience when Sr. Catherine undertook her lectureship examination and I was inspired by her conviction and aspirations. I resolved, then, that I should put together this web presentation of her ideas. Because young recruits are certainly needed in beekeeping and more can be done along the lines that she has shown to work. There are links throughout the text that lead to sub pages with further details and pictures.

Her own appraisal of the lectureship examination forms the introduction... The majority of the rest of these words are hers, taken from her own notes and many documents that she has allowed me to work with.

The morning of 28th July 2001, found me in a less than relaxed form. Why? I was about to stand in front of a gathering of expert beekeepers from all parts of Ireland and beyond, and share with them my conviction that it is possible to involve young people in beekeeping, and also to prove, if proof is necessary, that young people are very much needed, if the absorbing and wholesome craft of beekeeping is to survive in the future.

Why did any of us decide to join the beekeeping fraternity? I daresay it was a decision made because somebody or something created for us a spark of interest in those amazing little insects, the honeybees. If we were to cast our memories back over the years and recall procuring our very own first hive, or purchasing our first nucleus or colony, or the taking of our first swarm, what memories would be evoked? We would have to admit that example and encouragement from others played a big part. Even experts who have risen to lofty heights would probably admit that. Yes, we are what we are simply because we have stood on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before us:- The Rev. Langstroth, Butler, Abbott, Bro. Adam, Manley etc. etc.

Introducing School Children to the magic of honeybees

Encouragement and example play an important part in helping to deepen one's interest and involvement in any project, and beekeeping is no exception.

My plan to involve young people in beekeeping was school based. Having spent many years dealing with children in the classroom and otherwise, I am convinced that encouragement is the best instrument in any Teacher's hands "Mol an óige agus tiochfaidh sí", (Praise the young and they will blossom) or as my mother used to say "more flies are caught with a spoonful of honey than with a barrel of vinegar".

After consulting with the Principal in the local Primary School, and the class teacher, it was with great enthusiasm and determination to make things work that a class of 10 year olds, 26 in all, was chosen for the project. From the start it was teamwork. That was an immense help.

General Aims... From the outset we had hoped:-

To create an interest in the environment and see how bees fitted into it.
To ascertain what knowledge the children already had regarding bees.
To check out what interest, if any, they might have in bees.
To gradually build up a useful beekeeping vocabulary.
To set certain tasks for the children.
To reward the effort made by each child.
To have as much enjoyment as possible.

Steps in the Program:-

 a.  In September and October of 2000 when the various trees were clothed in shades of yellow, red, amber and brown, photographs were taken, bark rubbings were made and mounted, leaves were collected and pressed and the position of each tree noted. While this was all very enjoyable and exciting for the children, I was thinking ahead towards the spring of 2001 when the same trees would flower and provide nectar and pollen for the bees.
b. In an effort to ascertain what knowledge the children already had regarding bees or beekeeping, 20 very simple questions were compiled and all questions were to be answered without the aid of any adult. The answers were a mixed bag: some very correct and others very amusing. e.g. "How long do you think a bee might live"? Answer:- "Forever, if he is lucky"! By my supplying the correct answers afterwards, we were in the first stage of building a useful beekeeping vocabulary.
c. Having gleaned what knowledge the children had, I then set about finding out what was the extent of their interest. We changed roles: the children set the questions and I promised to answer them. In this exercise the children were free to compile their questions at home. This was a way of canvassing the interest of parents or older brothers or sisters. In answering all the questions, apart from supplying the information asked for, more vocabulary building was achieved.
d. By mid-November it was very evident that the children were really interested in the project: All information was being stored by them in fancy folders and the nature table became a miniature bee world. Sketches of queen bees, drones, workers, wings, legs and pollen baskets etc. adorned the classroom walls.
e. When the early spring flowers appeared, the children, in small groups, began to observe the bees at work. To see the bees flit from flower to flower among the snowdrops, crocuses and spring flowers was indeed a joy. A little later when the heathers came into bloom, it was then, that seeing is believing hit home. Quite clearly the pollen loads were visible on the bees' legs. Recording their findings was really wonderful for the children. The more the children became interested, the more the parents caught on as well, and that was evident from their queries and comments.
f. In September 2000, the position of certain trees was noted. Now, in spring 2001, it was time to observe these same trees in leaf and flower. The children's observations were noted in their individual record cards. A brand new national hive for the class was the reward for good record keeping. Having the hive was an opportunity for the children to handle and name each part of a hive. The whole learning process was in keeping with the theory of "d´ mhéad céadfaí a bhíonn ag obair is arnhlaidh is fearr". (The more ways of learning the better). From the outset the children had been hearing that honey is a pure and wholesome food. Now towards the closing weeks and days of their project, it was time for them to test that out in the cookery school. Over two weeks they did just that, and some delicious sweets and ice creams were produced.
h. Since a famous Beekeeper, Turlough O'Bryan, "The Beeman from County Clare", was born in Ardee, it was only fair that a spot of history should be included in our program. The best collectors of information on his life were to be my helpers at the removal of an early crop of honey. The morning spent in extracting "the pure and wholesome food" was very interesting and enjoyable for everybody.

Do we really need young people?

A glance at the age profile in a small sample of Beekeeping Associations will speak for itself.

Assn. AAssn. BAssn. CAssn. DAssn. ETotals
Under 20 years001001
20-50 years725204561
50-70 years173425735118
Over 70 years20511018


At the end of our program I felt that the seed had not fallen on barren ground. The children enjoyed themselves and have been encouraged to take an interest in beekeeping. Their plea was that the work would continue with them in next year's class.

Some parents, a small number admittedly, also came along to ask about setting up a hive or two in their own gardens. The judges of the County Environment and ESB (Electricity Supply Board), who sponsored the competitions... Were amazed at the knowledge the youngsters had gathered about bees and beekeeping, and they were surprised at how confident and articulate some of these ten-year olds were.

The plan for 2000-2001 ended on 20th June 2001. The outline of a continuation Program known as 'Module 2' is well on the way and includes the Table Quiz method. To add to the theoretical knowledge instilled the first year. It is amazing what a few little prizes can do! A repeat of the first years methods is being run for a new group that is now up to ten years of age.

Sr M. Catherine Duffy

One of Sr Catherine's methods that she uses with the children lends itself well to some other beekeeping lectures that may well be aimed at a more mature audience. This 'white board' work is described on a separate page.

There has been a spin-off from the An Beachaire article. (An Beachaire is pronounced Ann Backerie as near as I can do it phonetically.) This translates to 'the beekeeper'. The magazine is read all over the world and can be obtained by subscription via the link.

Table Quiz This is a very popular method of 'Question Time' type competitions. It is competing in teams rather than individuals, but it is also a learning method.

Teams of four - usually, are seated at a table.
The 'Quiz Master' calls out the questions and allows a minute or two for the team to agree an answer and write it down.
The answer sheets are collected after each ten questions.
The correct answers are then called out by the Quiz Master, so that there is a learning element built in.
Round 2 then gets underway.
At the same time the 'correctors' check the answer sheets and compile a chart with the number of questions that each team got correct.

Ettamarie Peterson happened to read the article and has an interest in promoting beekeeping to young children. She also has a website that involves young children with animals. In addition to her own demonstrations Ettamarie has contacted her local school with intentions of establishing two way Email contact between the group of children in USA and those in Ireland.

Sr. Catherine herself, admits to a lack of knowledge regarding computers... Any correspondence can be directed via Sr. Monica who will pass on the details.

Mercy Convent Ardee Convent of Mercy
Hale Street
Ardee, Co. Louth

Written...  April & May 2002, Revised... 25 January 2003, Upgraded... 5 December 2004,


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