Guerrilla Encouragement Efforts

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Chances are at some point in your life you’ve received encouragement from someone you didn’t know well or even know at all. It may have been a tiny gesture but it came at the right time.

~Maybe a note left in a library book serendipitously answered a question you’d been mulling over.

~Maybe a store clerk commented on how wonderfully inquisitive your child was just when you were despairing of her constant questions.

~Maybe something as simple as a stranger’s thoughtful compliment boosted your flagging spirits.

Such instances feel as if they’re meant to happen, stretching our perspective beyond the ordinary and helping us pause, contemplate, and renew the way we see our lives. Often they inspire us to spread the same feeling of encouragement to others.

I’ve had plenty of those moments. That’s why when my kids were very small we had a secret indulgence—-guerrilla encouragement efforts. Let’s call these GEE for short. They’re similar to the widely known Random Acts of Kindness but for us GEE were specifically focused on encouragement.  Here’s how we proceeded.

The easiest GEE are letting people know the job they do is appreciated. Since my kids were too little to write at that time, occasionally they dictated gratitude notes, like the one my oldest insisted on writing to a particular nurse’s aide he saw each week during nursing home visits. My kids gave homemade cookies to firefighters and freshly picked strawberries to librarians. A few times we were driving through a slow intersection at just the right pace for us to roll down the car window and give a cold bottle of water to a traffic cop. Handing over GEE offerings requires little more than simply saying, “thanks for what you do.” The look on our recipients’ faces filled us with expansiveness, as if the air suddenly became lighter. My kids liked to talk about these moments again and again.

Their favorite GEE giveaway involved grocery store popsicles, a treat normally illicit in our annoyingly make-it-from-scratch household. I let my little ones stand out front with a box of these popsicles. They could barely stand the excitement as the garbage truck rumbled closer and closer. Patiently they waited until the workers had finished upending our garbage cans, then they held out the popsicles shouting “thank you” over the roar of the truck’s grinder.  The guys were more thrilled than any of us anticipated, waving all the way down the street as they hung on the truck with purple, orange and red popsicles in their mouths.

What kept us talking and thinking much longer were GEE for people we would never meet. One time we decorated little film canisters with tiny sticker letters spelling out “treasure” or “for you.” We rolled up fortunes we’d made inside, then filled the canisters with nickels, dimes and quarters. We put them in the diaper bag planning to tuck them out-of-the-way spots for strangers to find. I thought it would take us weeks to locate perfect drop off places but the kids made a quest out of hiding every one the first time we went out. Our canisters ended up at the library, health food store, and park. For weeks afterward my kids speculated about who might have found these little treasures and they told each other stories about the outcomes they envisioned. My daughter announced one could have been found by a lady who needed exactly that amount to buy a kitten (my daughter named the kitten and recounted its adventures as she imagined the scenario). My son decided it one could have been found by a boy who needed to buy a compass to draw maps (and then my son promptly drew a whole series of maps). Although they asked to do this project over and over again, we only did it that once. Secretly I was concerned that the canisters would be tossed as junk before anyone ever opened them. I also had come to rely on household change for necessities, so that moment of largesse was a one time sacrifice.

Another GEE that really captured our imaginations? Talking stones. We were walking along Lake Erie and spied quite a few flat water-washed stones. Perfect surface for an encouraging note. The kids ran around the beach collecting the largest stones. They carefully washed the sand off at the water’s edge and set them out on our beach towel to dry in the sun. I used a permanent marker (although a finer point marker would have let me squeeze more words on each stone). Our plan was to write something encouraging on one side, then leave the stones scattered well above the high tide line. We came up with messages like “you rock” and “everything is just fine” and “be tender.” Schmucky, but it’s hard to think with preschoolers clamoring to redistribute stones in a gleeful reverse scavenger hunt. The kids liked the idea of leaving them for strangers to find and chortled over the idea of stones “talking.” We left that day happily speculating about who might find a stone and what it might mean to them. Quite possibly nothing. Or who knows, one of our stones might have spoken to just the right person.

With all that’s going on in the world, guerilla encouragement efforts seem strange, funny, and innocently optimistic. But each child is born to dance on this beautiful planet that’s turning, turning, turning toward greater hope. GEE, why not?

“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”    Carl G. Jung

18 thoughts on “Guerrilla Encouragement Efforts

  1. Laura, I’d like to chat sometime. This is so beautiful, but I don’t see how I might get my 8-year-old son interested. My efforts to help others have often made him very uncomfortable. I love how you’ve made this into a game. Perhaps you could help me see how to honor my son’s boundaries and at the same time, help him enjoy reaching out.


  2. I’d love to chat too! About all sorts of things.

    Making cookies to give firefighters and leaving little surprises for others are probably activities that appeal to small kids (or preteen girls). My kids evolved naturally into doing service sorts of things that were a better fit for their interests as they got older.

    One of my sons spent lots of time in a program in our area called Youth Challenge Kids sign up to go on various recreational events like sailing, bowling, nature hikes, all sorts of things, and are partnered one-on-one with kids near their age who have a physical disability. Fantastic program—not only bridging that “difference” gap but creating friendships in the context of fun.

    My daughter started volunteering at a nearby place that rehabilitates injured birds of prey (and many other creatures), gained invaluable skills and friends, and still volunteers there every weekend. Here are some of her photos

    Over the years each of my four kids has done plenty of service work—Habitat (they let kids work if their parents are also volunteering), Red Cross Youth Services, nursing home visits, making and serving free holiday meals, working on 4-H committees, you name it. But we’ve also had plenty of time when our service work was more in the realm of earning some bucks to donate to a good cause (garage sale or the ilk) or doing a one-time project.

    I agree about the importance of recognizing our kids’ boundaries. But sometimes blasting our kids out of their comfort zone is entirely worth it for the personal growth and expanded world view. (Travel is great for that, especially downscale travel.) I think one of the easiest ways to encourage reluctant kids to engage in service work is to do something together as a family, that way it isn’t focused on what the child is contributing so much as everyone. I have a long list of suggested things in Free Range Learning. And I also suggest that kids set aside some of their allowance and/or earnings for donations they choose.

    But I have to balance this too. Our kids go through complex stages, needing to draw inward and resisting change until they’re ready. He may be in just such a phase of personal growth.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We did stuff like that, too, from leaving notes and flowers for the mail carrier, to lemonade for the garbage men. We took Christmas ornaments to favorite grocery store clerks and small gifts to elderly neighbors. Clerks at the grocery store still ask how the girls are.


  4. Stunning idea. I used to gift cookies etc to the neighbours…when I had one child. Now that the baby-coma is coming to an end, I shall have to start again. Love the idea with the rocks, and think our boys would too. Must come for coffee, Laura. Seriously.


  5. Hello,
    I am a junior in high school and I read your book, Free Range Learning, as a resource for a research paper I wrote on homeschooling for my Language and Composition class. I found your book very helpful to my understanding of homeschooling (having only been homeschooled for two years in middle school.) It also brought up some ideas that I haven’t thought of before. My research paper is posted on on and I would appreciate your comments.
    Thank you for your time,
    Christiana Tanner


    • Hi Christiana,

      I just finished reading your research paper. Your work shows that you’ve done a lot of investigation in order to refute common misconceptions about homeschooling. I hope your paper was well received. Efforts like yours go a long way towards greater understanding of educational alternatives. Bravo!


  6. Pingback: Carnival of Homeschooling: Wish List Edition | Life Nurturing Education

  7. I love this! Since we had our 4th child over a year ago, we’ve been so caught up in day to day tasks that we really haven’t been serving others outside of our home. I think it’s about time to schedule that into our routine. Thank you for this post!


  8. Thank you for the amazing ideas. I have a 4 and a half year old that I am trying to get more involved in helping others rather then herself. I can’t wait to try new and selfless things with her and eventually her year old sister.


  9. Since it’s 2020, we were leaving little notes of thanks with a sticker inside for any home deliveries (groceries, amazon, mailman, etc)

    It’s tapered off but I think I’ll see if my son wants to start again ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

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