The Bee, Plum and Chains of Learning.

One spring morning (in 2019), as children flocked back into the Big Barn classroom from outside after snack, one of the children was softly cupping her hands together and spoke excitedly as she moved. Something precious was being brought back for the group to see.

As the children gathered on the blue carpet with teachers too, the identity of the mystery guest - or gift – became apparent; a bee. Few things can alter the course of a planned learning activity or sequence more than the appearance of an insect! Even (or especially) a dead one. Here’s what happened next…

There was a buzzing exchange of comments and questions from the children. Where was it? Who found it? Was it moving? Can it still sting? Can I have a look? You’ve had it longer than me! Pass it round! Meanwhile the Bee Keeper tried to find a way to catch their attention, managing to do so by raising the bee-free hand.

The Bee Keeper went on to tell the story of how in fact another child had found it. A child next to the Bee Keeper wanted to join in with the story of How The Bee Was Found. So for a short time the group saw this negotiation play out before them. Then, the Bee Keeper and Leading Story Teller asked: where can we keep the bee? How, so that others can come & see it later? How can we make sure the bee is handled carefully so not to damage it? How are we going to communicate the existence of the bee to others? In truth some of this was posed as suggestions, not as questions for the group. Some of the suggestions veered towards decisions already clearly taken, too.

“Together with deciding what to do with the bee, what could we learn about it? Or learn from it? Or with it? And how long are we going to ‘allow’ now to look into all this, before we move forwards to, or back to, other learning?”

So the group agreed that we’d create a space of (just) 5 minutes in which The Bee could be respectfully passed around. Someone offered to find a container fit to become The Bee’s next home. We brought down a clock and a group of Time Keepers agreed to take on the role (see photo). We scooped off a bookshelf a giant book on bees, which another group agreed to take on the responsibility of leafing through to discover anything that they might decide could be of special interest to the group. Another group of three searched a poetry book, a gift, for a bee poem. Five ‘officially-agreed-to’ (as opposed to ‘designated’) roles as part of a spontaneously- appearing group project.

Minutes later the Time Keepers shared the news that the time was up, and shared with the whole group some tips for telling the time. A glass jar had appeared. Everyone had had the chance to cradle The Bee and see it close up. The Reading Trio shared a page illustrating the patterns that bees make – the waggle dance – and read from the page. To end we heard the poem read out by another child.

What are the things that make learning possible?

In this case, at the end of the sequence outlined above, we mentioned the fact that a variety of learning had taken place through The Bee arriving inside.

Krishnamurti said – “In oneself lies the whole world and if you know how to look and learn, the door is there and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself”.

How can a school, like Inwoods, best support children, and their families, in that exploration of looking & learning?

The Inwoods anecdote above all sprung initially from one child noticing – somehow, amidst the activity of their mind & body – a tiny bee lying dead on the ground. The story & title have been chosen in part to embody the way in which learning can ripple out ‘along a chain’ from a starting point as simple, yet beautiful, as one person noticing one tiny thing that nobody else had noticed, or acted on. Yet ‘chain’ could also represent the restrictions placed on us and by us as we move through the learning journeys of our lives.

Beyond that, the story of The Bee is a salute to the people of a school close to the Inwoods heart, visited by us in December 2015. The welcome was immense at Shibumi – ‘bee-ing not becoming’- from all; children, adults, and Kabir…The chain represents the connections between us.