Spotting London Planes and Pigeons: An “I Spy” game leads to enviro-learning

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Christine Keefe from We Grok It! was joined by gardener Laura Mejia and 10 little citizen scientists at NYRP’s Bathgate Community Garden in the Bronx.  We Grok It! is an organization dedicated to social and environmental justice through scientific fellowship and learning, that is also working with NYRP to help activate the Bathgate garden by providing quality programming for neighborhood residents.

Christine started the event by taking us back in time, and describing to us what the neighborhood looked like when the Lenape Indians called it home. Most of the area around the Bathgate Garden was forest and wetlands. It’s hard to image today, standing in the garden with a view of apartment buildings and the Major Deegan, how different things were back then.

We then went forward in time, to a more recent history of the neighborhood. Christine passed out several pictures of the area in the 1980s, pointing out buildings that are still standing today.  The kids used this opportunity to test out their binoculars and take a closer look at these buildings.

Binoculars can be tricky however, so after a quick tutorial on how to use them, Christine and the kids began a game of "I spy with my little eye." One kid would describe something in the garden and the rest of the group had to find it with their binoculars. This would come in handy once we began touring the neighborhood and identifying local wildlife.

Once everyone was comfortable with using their binoculars, the neighborhood tour began. We walked past the garden and around the block, as the children raised their binoculars every time a bird was pointed out. “Who knows what that bird is?” Christine asked, before three kids simultaneously yelled, “Pigeon!”

Next, Christine identified the London Plane, the most common New York City street tree. Did you know the Parks Department logo is a London Plane tree leaf?  The London Plane is a hybrid of the Sycamore tree. Christine tells the kids, “We can remember that this is a Sycamore because the trunk is peeling. The peeling makes it look sick and so, ‘Sycamore.’

The neighborhood tour wrapped up as we visited a park on the exact site of what used to be a wetland. The children learned that wetlands are important because they absorb rain water. When wetlands are paved over, like they were in this area, there is flooding when there’s heavy rain.

Bundled up in their winter coats and full of new knowledge about their neighborhoods, the children rushed back to the garden for some hot cider and donuts. We Grok It! will continue working with the Bathgate community and bring more learning opportunities to the garden, so be sure to follow us--on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more!--to learn about the latest events and programs taking place in our gardens. 

PHOTO: Kids spot wildlife at NYRP's Bathgate Community Garden