Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Birds not Bees?

In the past I have had occasions where people say they want to attract birds to their playspaces but no "bees or other insects". The idea that flowering plants are also bad because they encourage bees and therefore are a major safety risk. Yes, some children are allergic to bees (I was one of them, getting bitten on my 6th birthday and spending the day in hospital instead of at my birthday pool party), but does this mean these children shouldn't be allowed to experience flowers? Also how can we design playspaces with plants that attract ONLY birds and prevent bees and other insects from entering the space?

Basically it's impossible but this then presents a challenge to designers and educators as to how we can turn around people's fears of the outdoors and associated insects, etc. When I was young, we spent heaps of time outdoors and got to know a diverse range of insects - some just observed and others collected. These days with computers, playstations and the additional fear of letting children play outside, the interactions between adults and insects are decreasing. Watching children being bewitched by ants for 2 hours is amazing to watch and these experiences need to continue and not disappear!

To attract birds is to attract bees which also brings insects and that's part of a natural and evolving playspace - as educators embracing these additions to the outdoor environment rather than avoiding them and seeing them constantly as a risk will ensure that children are provided with opportunities to experience the natural world at its best.

Having said that, bees can potentially be a fatal risk for some children, so part of letting them play outdoors freely may involve strategies including - long sleeved tops and pants when flowering plants are in full bloom, awareness by staff and other children about bees so that the child can be observed and protected during outdoor play and discussing what to do when you see a bee with the child so that they have some personal control over their environment.
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