June 2011: Your kids

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Problem: Making room for an unusual hobby
In a far corner of the Schneehagens’ backyard, hundreds of bees are buzzing in and out of their bright yellow hive. Henri Schneehagen, 9, and his parents, Loreena and Jason, are the keepers of the bees and other living things that thrive on this Charlottesville city homestead. In addition to the bees, Henri helps tend to the vegetable and fruit gardens. Talking about strawberries, most likely pollinated by his own bees, he says, “I usually eat half of them out of the garden. I do like them a lot better than other strawberries at the grocery store!”
Finding a place for an unusual hobby can be a challenge, especially if space is limited.
Inside, the walls of Henri’s bedroom are a deep ocean blue and the ceiling is dotted with painted clouds and glow-in-the-dark stars. Under his loft bed is a small desk and a cot for sleepover guests. One set of shelves is devoted entirely to Legos; another is filled with home-schooling materials. “When it’s nice,” Henri explains, “I go outside and when it’s not, I usually play with Legos or video games.”

The Schneehagen house, itself, is a tight fit for this family of three (plus Mack, the dog). With just two bedrooms, one bath, a living room and a cozy kitchen, much of the activity happens outside of the home.

“We have too many hobbies,” says Loreena. “My husband has a beer brewing shed and we’re roasting coffee right now. And a lot of gardening. We just took up kayaking [and] backpacking. We do triathlons, mountain biking…bees kind of fit in there, [too].”

A few hours of Henri’s day are dedicated to schoolwork followed by plenty of time outdoors for a different type of schooling. His curriculum is enhanced by habitat observation and on-site food production. Beyond the beer brewing and coffee roasting, everyone helps maintain and preserve the gardens’ bounty by canning fruits and veggies and harvesting the honey and beeswax.

The beehive is situated as far as it can be from their house and surrounding homes. True, the Schneehagens have been stung a handful of times but have never had an incident of injured guests or neighbors in the several years that they have kept bees. Twice they have had to replenish their colony. Once, they experienced colony collapse and the second time, the bees swarmed, leaving their hive en masse on a search for a new home. Maintaining the hive has been quite a learning experience for the whole family.

“It’s sort of like having a little field trip in your backyard,” Jason points out. “Kids love to see beehives—you get to see how it happens. You can stand here and watch all of the different jobs that each bee has—it’s the same thing in society. It’s something to learn from.”

Henri has been talking with his dad about the potential of expanding his beekeeping and helping manage a few other hives locally. In the meantime, between schoolwork, Legos and staying on top of the weeding, his summer is already looking, well, busy.—Christy Baker

 

Basket haul

No matter what your kids’ favorite pastime, keep hobby accoutrements organized and contained in this colorful Kaisa-grass storage basket from Ten Thousand Villages ($48). It’s large enough to hold anything from fabrics for crafts to piles of Legos. Ask a salesperson for a printout of the story behind the basket and learn about the definition of “fair trade.”—C.B.

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