Rachel Haydon: biography and 10 questions about The Nature Activity Book

Rachel Haydon, author of The Nature Activity Book, discusses her work with Te Papa Press.

Rachel Haydon is a qualified primary school teacher and scientist with a Zoology degree and Master’s in Marine Science. She has over 15 years’ experience of teaching science to children of all ages in schools, museums, zoos and aquariums in Australia, South Korea, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, including the Natural History Museum (London), Zoological Society of London, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and the National Aquarium of New Zealand, where she is the General Manager. She is committed to motivating children of all ages to get outside and explore, and to enjoy and protect the natural world and all that lives within it.

Ten Questions with Rachel Haydon

You have a previous connection with Te Papa. Tell us about that.

I was previously the Manager, Formal Learning for Te Papa, and what an amazing experience that was. Coming home from 18 years overseas, it was not only an incredible role to land but also an awesome reintroduction to the richness of New Zealand culture. Late in 2018 I took on a role at the National Aquarium in my hometown of Napier, but I would love to rejoin the Te Papa whānau sometime in the future!

When you were first approached to write this book, what were your thoughts?

Wow! Are you serious?! It was a ‘pinch yourself’ moment that writing a book with the incredible staff at Te Papa might become a reality. I was so grateful – I got to work right away!

Who did you have in mind as you set about developing it?

This book was written with adventurous kids aged six to twelve years old in mind, but I also wanted it to be an adventure that those kids could do with their families. It’s for those who love asking questions and don’t mind getting a little dirty!

You had already had a big day job at the National Aquarium in Napier, and near the end of the book your job got quite a lot bigger when you became the general manager. How did you fit working on the book in?

Weekends! I have a young daughter who was still taking day naps, so that was precious, uninterrupted time to get stuff done. Thankfully I was so excited about the opportunity to write the book that I got the content written quite quickly. So, it was a matter of putting it all in order and refining it into the final product. And it was great including my husband and daughter in doing the activities – you might see their hands in some pictures.

There’s a wonderful mix of creativity and observation throughout this book – looking and then doing. How important is observing for children?

So important! Taking the time to observe what’s going on around you, coming up with your own ideas about what’s happening and then testing those ideas is the very foundation of how people build knowledge. It doesn’t matter if you’re ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – it’s all about the journey when you’re learning.

It’s a sort of mindfulness, isn’t it?

Absolutely. It’s ‘stopping to smell the roses’ and being present in the moment you’re in. You never know what you’ll see, find or stumble across when you just slow down.

One can imagine parents keeping this book long after their children have finished working in it. It could be a sort of keepsake of a moment in their children’s lives, do you think?

Yes – that is my wish, that children will treasure these adventures and look back upon them fondly. The style of the book is just awesome. There’s lots of space to record what you did and revisit those memories later.

The illustrations by Pippa Keel throughout this book are a delight. How did the two of you work together?

It was a dream! Pippa’s beautiful, naturalistic style was a perfect fit for what I wanted, and we were totally on the same page. I would write and she would create beautiful illustrations that barely needed tweaking. It was an incredible experience for an author writing her first book.

What do you hope young readers will get from this book?

Excitement, wonder and confidence in their own abilities. I hope they just love picking it up, becoming inspired by something and getting lost in the moment. I hope they end up spending hours outside and inside, enjoying their own time and loving time with their friends and family.

And their teachers and whānau?

I hope they get to see their tamariki grow in confidence in front of their eyes. I hope they get wonderful pockets of time together having fun, exploring and coming up with more questions than they can answer.