This is not a story about bees. It is about empowering children by fostering opportunities where their wonderings about bees lead to meaningful explorations.

What happens when the students’ role is emphasized in the learning process? When investigations, problem-solving and discussions are driven by the students’ own curiosity and questions? In the case of Canadian Mother Teresa Early Childhood Education Center’s Bee Inquiries, magic happens.

Based in Lloydminster, Alberta, Mother Teresa School is dedicated to inquiry-based learning, an approach to education that puts students’ questions at the center of the curriculum. Teachers help guide the investigations that follow. This student-lead approach was the catalyst for its now thriving Bee Inquiries.

In 2017, Michelle Bulduc was a Kindergarten teacher at Mother Teresa School with students who had questions about bees. Lots of questions. So, she turned to urban beekeeper Laurie Makichuk — dubbed the “Bee Lady” — for help. Laurie and Michelle worked together to develop a learning project based on the Kindergarteners’ questions. "So many things are curriculum based for children but our Bee Inquiry program is theirs,” explains Michelle.

The extensive Bee Inquiry program works like this: Each spring, Laurie makes six visits to the classroom from March into May to help enhance students’ understanding of honey bees and the vital role these pollinators play in the food system. They learn about bee terminology, types of bees and their behaviors, different parts of the hive, pollination and more.

The lessons put students in the driver’s seat because their questions are the foundation for the tailored curriculum. In addition, because Kindergarten focuses on play-based learning, their Bee Inquiries do too. For example, instead of just listening to lessons, students draw and construct beehives and role play being beekeepers.

The Bee Inquiry concludes with a field trip to Laurie’s “secret” backyard garden, which features three beehives. Children rotate through six investigation centers including learning about parts of the bees, a demonstration of honey extraction, an opportunity to suit up and join bees in a hive, a planting center, wax artwork, and flower-shaped cookie decorating to remind students of the flowers’ importance for bees.

“Many students start the Bee Inquiry fearing bees, but they learn to respect them,” said Laurie. “Once they get on the bee suit and are surrounded by bees, they don’t want to leave the hive and ask if they can come back!”

Mother Teresa School was awarded a Bee Grant in 2019 to advance its educational bee programming. The Bee Grant, a partnership between Whole Kids Foundation and The Bee Cause Project, aims to encourage curious minds in discovery-based learning — a goal shared by the Bee Inquiries started by Laurie and Michelle. The school used the monetary grant to purchase an extractor and boost its curriculum and learning centers.

Kids have questions about bees — even during a pandemic. So, when the school moved online in the spring of 2020, Laurie took the Bee Inquiry online for the spring too. She would get on Zoom weekly with the students and created a virtual hub full of video lessons. The website features examinations of types of bees and their jobs, the bees’ life cycle and parts of the bee, a how-to on building a bee hive; a Q&A section where each week students submitted questions and Laurie posted video responses; and a virtual field trip to Laurie’s backyard hives.

Since its start, the Bee Inquiries have sparked a larger interest in the community and have inspired multiple classes and schools within the Lloydminster Catholic School Division and beyond to participate in similar programs with Laurie. Each inquiry is tailored to those specific students’ wonderings and interests, though each one shares the same guidelines:

  1. Bee Kind
  2. Bee Gentle
  3. Bee Respectful
  4. Bee Not Afraid

Today, Laurie estimates she has welcomed more than 1,500 children plus their families into her backyard garden. Mother Teresa School and Laurie also started a portable observational hive, where students can see a queen bee and watch the hive work to produce honey.

The Bee Inquiries in Lloydminster are about much more than students learning about bees. They are about educators like Michelle and community partners like Laurie helping to turn children’s questions into hands-on exploration. When this happens, students are able to take genuine ownership of their learning. Over the years, Michelle has witnessed firsthand how her students have felt empowered through this learning process: “It makes my heart so happy.”

As this inquiry-based learning program grows, the goal remains the same: “We need to keep listening to the children,” Laurie explains.