Environmental Education, Science

The Importance of Bees: Teaching Kids about Pollinators

The Importance of Bees: Teaching Kids about Pollinators

Originally published in TEACH Magazine, May/June 2024 Issue

By Fiona Tapp

The humble bee is a symbol of busy productivity. It is also one of the most important pollinators.

What makes bees so special? They transfer pollen from male to female flower parts in order to fertilize plants, a process that is essential for the reproduction of many flowering plants, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Bees and other pollinators are responsible for 35 percent of global crop production. Without them the resulting imbalance in our agricultural system would severely threaten food supplies.

Bees also contribute to soil fertility, plant diversity, and nutrient cycling, playing a vital role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. There are over 800 species of native bees in Canada and one in four species are at risk of extinction. If they disappear our planet would suffer, exacerbating environmental degradation and making ecosystems more vulnerable to other stressors, such as climate change and habitat loss.

In a broader sense, bees act as barometers of the planet’s overall health. Their sensitivity to changes in habitat, climate, and pesticide exposure makes them valuable indicators of broader environmental trends. Monitoring bee populations can provide insights into the impacts of human activities on ecosystems and help inform conservation and management efforts.

The BEE Hope Project

It’s about time bees got the proper respect they deserve, and at one elementary school in Ottawa, they will soon have an entire pollinator meadow dedicated to them.

Teachers at St. Bernard Catholic School have been busy collaborating on a new project called “BEE Hope,” which aims to create a naturalized, bee-friendly area within the schoolyard. It will feature flowers, trees, and shrubs to attract bees and other pollinators, and will be used as a practical learning resource for students.

The idea started as a school-wide art project in collaboration with Canadian artist Maria Saracino, who works with polymer clay and textiles. For the project, every child from kindergarten to Grade 6, along with their teachers, created their own hexagonal polymer clay tiles featuring symbols of Canada. Now those tiles will become part of the garden design.

As the teachers researched different ideas and topics to inspire students, they discovered that Saint Bernard, for whom the school is named, is actually the patron saint of beekeepers. This got everyone thinking about bees and their habitat, and eventually staff and students came up with the idea of making a pollinator garden to help support the bees.

Educational Activities

Saint Bernard’s patronage comes as no surprise to Oliver Couto who, besides being a beekeeper and owner of the Toronto-based The Bee Shop, is also a philosophical and religious scholar. Couto describes the honeybee as “the apex of evolution” and has been exploring the spiritual side of the insect through his film series, The Sacred Bee.

The Bee Shop hosts an introductory beekeeping course, as well as a Young Beekeepers Club—an after-school program for children aged 8 to 14 years. “Each month we cover various aspects or facets of beekeeping,” Couto says. “Then they get involved with planting a seed in our rooftop pollinator garden.”

Couto also makes educational visits to daycares and schools to teach kids about the importance of bees. “Our most popular activity is beeswax candle making,” he notes. The activity gives students a chance to make their own mini candles, which they get to keep.

Students making beeswax candles at The Bee Shop

Additional educational activities include “honeybee vision,” where students learn about how honeybees can see in ultraviolet. “That’s pretty amazing,” Couto says. “We also have a pollination activity where we teach [kids] how the honeybees help ensure our nation’s food supply.”

Connections and Collaboration

Maria Fabiani has been a teacher for 25 years, and has taught at St. Bernard for the last four. She says it felt like kismet that, in creating a pollinator garden, herself and the school’s other educators were able to draw so many connections with cross-curriculum topics and links in the Ontario science curriculum, including the Life Systems strand.

Many of the polymer clay tiles that will decorate the bee garden feature designs of native animal species. This prompted teachers to connect with the school board’s Indigenous Education Consultants to ask them for advice and guidance regarding plants that are indigenous to the area. They also inquired about any special considerations that should be made to honour Traditional Knowledge and teachings.

Alanna Trines, Indigenous Education Lead at the Ottawa Catholic School Board, has been a teacher since 2007. Her Indigenous Education Team supports teachers with Indigenous education, aiding in presentations, lesson planning, and clarifying Indigenous concepts like land acknowledgments. They manage ministry funding, tackle resistance to Indigenous initiatives, and assist Indigenous students and families by removing barriers and providing support.

Trines says that her team is always happy to hear from teachers looking to incorporate indigeneity into school plans and resources, but that it’s important to keep a few guidelines in mind to avoid tokenism or cultural appropriation.

“The four sacred medicines are Tobacco, Cedar, Sweetgrass, and Sage and a lot of folks want to plant them in healing gardens or medicine gardens, but these are sacred medicines for Indigenous communities,” she explains. “Just planting them to have them there is a beautiful gesture, but without collaborating with community to provide the appropriate teachings of the sacredness of those medicines, then we’re not really doing the good work yet.”

Collaboration among teachers, parents, community leaders, and Elders is essential. “Nothing in Indigenous education should be done alone or in a silo,” Trines says. “Everything should be done from a collaborative approach.”

St. Bernard school’s plan to open the garden by the end of the academic year is a good example of a collaborative community project in action.

As Fabiani explains, “We’re all working on different parts of this as it has become a very big project. We need a contractor to dig out the area in the schoolyard and we’re looking at getting parent volunteers and volunteers from the community to help water the garden over the summer holidays. We’re hoping that Father Eslin at the church next door will come and bless the garden. It’s truly become an all-encompassing project.”

Beyond Sustainability

The school is so committed to teaching kids about the importance of bees that it’s taking the initiative to the next level by incorporating the bee into its very own identity. St. Bernard has plans for a new bee school mascot, as well as bee-themed t-shirts for staff. The project’s name, “BEE Hope,” is even connected to the school board’s overarching strategic commitment to “Be Hope,” which includes teachings on gratitude, joy, and hope.


“We’re creating this community for the bees, and the flora and fauna, but in a deeper sense, we’re creating a stronger community for our students and our staff,” Fabiani says.

Learning more about bees goes far beyond sustainability. These industrious insects have strong community bonds and can show us the importance of teamwork, communication, and collective effort in achieving our common goals.

Teaching students about bees also helps foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of nature, instilling a sense of environmental stewardship. Plus, interacting with a pollinator garden gives kids hands-on experiences observing pollination in action, allowing them to develop important scientific inquiry skills and gain insights into the interconnectedness of ecosystems.

Further Resources:

  • Educational resources from the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association
  • An online exhibition about bees from the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum

Kindergarten students planted milkweed and wild bergamot seeds in “rockwool,” a soilless, spongy material that gives roots plenty of oxygen and moisture to help them grow. Once the seeds germinated, they were placed in the Tower Garden, which sprays a nutrient-rich solution over the seedlings. The plants will later be transplanted into the school’s pollinator garden.

How to Plant a Pollinator Meadow in Your School   

Empower your class to become responsible and environmentally conscious citizens with their own bee-friendly garden. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help get you started:

Site Selection

Choose an appropriate location for your pollinator meadow. Look for an area with plenty of sunlight, good soil drainage, and enough space to support a variety of wildflowers and grasses.

Research Native Plants

Research native plant species that are attractive to pollinators in your region. Native plants are well-adapted to the local climate and soil conditions, making them ideal choices for your meadow or garden.

These Canadian plants help attract pollinators like bees:

  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Canada goldenrod
  • Purple-stemmed aster
  • Swamp milkweed
  • Wild bergamot
  • Wild strawberry


Design your meadow layout, considering factors such as plant height, bloom times, and colour variety. Aim for a diverse mix of flowers, grasses, and other vegetation to attract a wide range of pollinators.

Prepare the Soil

Prepare the soil by removing any existing vegetation and weeds. Loosen the soil to a depth of several inches to promote root growth and water infiltration.


Plant your selected native plants according to your design plan. Follow the recommended spacing and planting depth for each species. Water the plants thoroughly after planting to help them establish roots.


Maintain your pollinator meadow by watering as needed, removing weeds, and monitoring for pests or diseases. Involve students and teachers in ongoing maintenance tasks to foster a sense of ownership and stewardship.

Educational Opportunities

Use the pollinator meadow as an educational resource for students. Incorporate lessons on ecology, biodiversity, and the importance of pollinators into your curriculum. Encourage students to observe and document the plant and insect life in the meadow.

Fiona Tapp is a former teacher and school administrator of 13 years. She writes about education, parenting, and travel for a variety of publications including National Geographic, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, the Sunday Times, and many more.