Pollination can be a rather difficult concept to learn–after all, do the bees eat the pollen, or the nectar? And why is pollination so important anyway?
Well, let’s get our facts down, so we’re all on the same page. When a honey bee lands on a flower, it uses its long tube-shaped tongue (called a proboscis) like a straw to drink the sweet nectar inside the flower. This nectar is eventually turned into honey by the bees at the hive. While the bee was busy getting a drink, tiny grains of pollen often get stuck to the bee. These grains of pollen come from the male part of the flower, the stamen. When a bee flies to a different flower to get more nectar, some of the pollen grains will fall off of the bee and onto the new flower. If they land on the pistil of the flower (the female section of the flower), then the flower gets pollinated and will be able to create a fruit and seed. The plant provides nectar for the bees, and the bees allow the flower to reproduce! Birds, butterflies, moths, bats, and flies can also pollinate flowers, in addition to bees. Some flowers can also be pollinated by the wind (green flowers are usually wind-pollinated).
So, male honeybees do not intentionally collect pollen, it just gets stuck to them by accident and transported to other flowers. Just to confuse things, however, female honey bees DO occasionally collect pollen–it is eaten by young honey bees, larvae, and the honey bee queen. But for the purposes of teaching pollination to elementary age kids, I would leave this part out–pollination is confusing as it is!
Pollination Activity #1 –Act it out!
This is a lot of information to process (for younger kids, I would definitely simplify it further), and I find that acting out pollination can be a fun and illuminating activity.
- On the day when we are learning about pollination, I often start by introducing the different pollinators and allowing students to decorate wings to wear. I give them the choice of making bee, butterfly or moth wings, since those are the most common pollinators in our area.
- Once they are all wearing their wings, I give each student a straw and tell them it is their proboscis and also put a strip of double-sided tape on each student’s arm (since the pollen will need to stick to them).
- A helper teacher and I will both put on headbands with petals attached, to show that we are flowers. We each have a cup filled with apple juice, to represent the nectar in the flower.
- Half of the students line up in front of myself, and half in front of my helper. They use their ‘proboscis’ to take a sip of the ‘nectar’ and I stick a cotton ball on the tape on their arm, telling them that pollen just got stuck to them.
- Then I send them to the line in front of the other flower. There, they will take another sip of nectar and the other flower will take the ‘pollen’ that was stuck to the students’ arm. Presto! They successfully pollinated the flower.
Pollination Activity #2–Pollination Tag
This next activity is a good reinforcement of the importance of pollination to plants. Start by telling students to draw their favorite fruit on a piece of paper. On the other side of the paper, tell students to draw a large flower. In the center of their flower, place a piece of double-sided tape, and attach a cotton ball to the flower. This is the pollen! Students may choose to color the cotton ball with marker to distinguish their pollen from the other flower’s in the class. Next, choose three students to be pollinators. They can put on their wings from the previous day’s activity. The pollinators will now chase the flowers in a game of tag (you may want to implement some rules for safety). When a flower is tagged, it must give its pollen to the pollinator. If the pollinator is already carrying a cotton ball, he/she hands the pollen to the flower to pollinate it. When this happens, the flower turns over his/her piece of paper to show that he/she turned into a fruit. This player then comes out of the game to sit down. The game ends when most of the flowers have been pollinated and turned into fruits!
Any other pollination activities you would teach?
You may also want to check out the pollination survey activity, which is a scavenger-hunt type activity to determine which color flowers different pollinators will be most attracted to pollinate.
Another pollination activity can be found at the bottom of this page about tomatillos, in which students will use paint brushes to help pollinate the flowers of tomatillo plants (this activity can be done with other fruits and veggies as well).
- The Beauty of Pollination (omtimes.com)