The students who frequent Henry Puffer Elementary School’s library are learning more than just how to make book selections.
Thanks to library teacher and interventionist Ashley Honn, they also are learning mindfulness through exercises in breathing and guided imagery.
“Kids never get a moment to just decompress during the school day. They always have so much on their plate,” Honn said. “I want the library to be that place where they can come and be calm and feel comfortable.”
To that end, when students in each grade level enter the library, they know that for the first few minutes they have the option of participating in a mindfulness activity.
“It doesn’t take long, but it’s a routine I’ve set and they know that’s how we start every day,” Honn said. “I tell the students our brains are like a boat and it drifts throughout the day and when we do a mindfulness activity it’s like we’re throwing the anchor off our boat to help us stay present in the moment.
“This helps students focus on what is happening in the moment rather than stop worrying about what is outside of their control. I try to teach them these skills so they can access them later when they’re stressed or in crisis. I told my husband I always feel more calm and regulated during the school day because I do it about six times a day with the kids. And mindfulness has been proven to support academic success in the school setting.”
It’s a practice Honn wishes she had learned earlier in her academic life.
“I was not a student who fully loved school,” she said. “I struggled greatly. My mom is an immigrant from the Philippines so it was always instilled in me that education is the most important thing you have. No one can take it away from you. But I struggled with reading and comprehension. I really just did not see my own potential unfortunately until high school at Downers Grove South. I watched this new confidence evolve. And then this new academic confidence helped me to graduate from Illinois State University as summa cum laude.”
She said those earlier struggles led to her decision to become a teacher.
“I try to focus on the bright spots of each student and boost their confidence. I want kids to feel better about school, like how I wished someone would have identified a skill in me to be promoted to help me feel better about school,” Honn said.
Before coming to Henry Puffer two years ago, Honn worked for six years as a fourth grade teacher at Indian Trail Elementary School in Downers Grove Grade School District 58.
“But I realized I was having a hard time saying goodbye to my students each year after working so hard to build strong connections. And I’ve always loved to read and share books with kids,” she said. “An opportunity came up for me to become the teacher librarian at Henry Puffer and now I get to see the students grow and evolve from kindergarten through sixth grade. I love the community here at Puffer and am very grateful for my teacher librarian position.”
When Honn first came to Henry Puffer two years ago, the library was being relocated from the upstairs of the school to a larger basement area.
“It was truly a blank canvas so I picked the colors and the wall art. I wanted it to be a calming space for the kids,” she said. “It was a lot of work right off the bat, but building this library is probably one of the most substantial things I’ve done in my career.”
Henry Puffer third grade teacher Christine Reynolds lauds the environment Honn has created for the students.
“I am thoroughly impressed by her learning space that she has created. It’s so inviting and organized and beautiful,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds also praised Honn for being a strong supporter of social-emotional learning and incorporating it into her lessons to teach the whole child. Recently, Reynolds said Honn read the book, “What if Pig?” by Linzie Hunter to her class.
“They had a long discussion on how they feel when they are worried and how it affects the body,” Reynolds said. “So to help with the worries, she encouraged the kids to write down their worries and place them in a jar and seal it away until they were ready. To help with this, they made worry jars and my kids use them all of the time.”
Reynolds also praised how Honn helped the students navigate the pandemic.
“We don’t realize how much the last few years changed them and to have a teacher like Ashley to help them cope with worries is amazing,” she said. “It touched my heart. That’s when I was like ... you’re amazing. No wonder why my kids can’t wait to get to the library. It’s more than just looking for books. It’s about jumping into a book and experiencing what they are reading.”