The social environment influences the circadian clock of diverse animals, but little is known about the functional significance, the specifics of the social signals, or the dynamics of socially mediated changes in the clock. Honey bees switch between activities with and without circadian rhythms according to their social task. Forager bees have strong circadian rhythms, whereas "nurse" bees typically care for the brood around-the-clock with no circadian rhythms in behavior or clock gene expression. Here we show that nurse-age bees that were restricted to a broodless comb inside or outside the hive showed robust behavioral and molecular circadian rhythms. By contrast, young nurses tended brood with no circadian rhythms in behavior or clock gene expression, even under a light-dark illumination regime or when placed with brood - but no queen - in a small cage outside the hive. This behavior is context-dependent because nurses showed circadian rhythms in locomotor activity shortly after removal from the hive, and in clock gene expression after ∼16 h. These findings suggest that direct interaction with the brood modulates the circadian system of honey bees. The dynamics of rhythm development best fit models positing that at least some pacemakers continue to oscillate and be entrained by the environment in nurses that are active around the clock. These cells set the phase to the clock network when the nurse is removed from the hive. These findings suggest that despite its robustness, the circadian system exhibits profound plasticity, enabling adjustment to rapid changes in the social environment.