I wandered out to the garden Easter morning and what treat did I find? Children with cloths, brushes, and big smiles washing moss from the Haunted Caravan. 'Its so disgusting!' they said, with faces full of joy.
One of my party tricks is getting children to tidy up. Their parents can't believe it.
The key is to enchant the work so it is creation, not drudgery. Here is the Cecilia Method for doing that:
1. Set up work in an unusual, pleasant place. If you want children to help you make dinner, set up a chopping board, pot and pile of veggies in a dappled spot in the garden. They won't recognise the task as 'work', and will gravitate to it, almost unasked.
2. Rename tasks to something world-expanding and significant. They are transforming a haunted caravan, not cleaning a dirty vehicle. They are becoming pastry chefs, not helping clean the kitchen. They are sending lost, lonely pens back to ther families, not 'tidying up'.
3. Righten things for them. That is, set up their surroundings so objects are lined up at right angles, and encourage a culture of straightening in production areas, such as kitchen, workbench. I learned this from Japan, which developed such a culture, for extreme smoothness in a constrained life. Even the things in the rubbish pile follow that imaginary grid. This gives people a micro-meditation every time they put something down, encouraging them to slow down and put things in the 'right' spot, so they can find them again, and proceed smoothly to their goal. It prevents visual chaos, which children naturally dislike. Ironically.
For the caravan project, I appointed a 'straightener', as its too new an idea for Aussie children, who don't have a culture of straightening, or even a word for it. Wikipedia calls it Knolling.
4. Give children roles. 'Safety officer' and assistant safety officer were the favourite ones. The work is so heroic, finding dangers such as sticking out nails, low-hanging branches, and creating solutions. 'Gopher; was great for little children. 'When a worker needs something like tape or scissors, they call 'Gopher!' and you 'go for' whatever it is'.
5. Notice and name their nature and strengths. No need to praise them directly, thats so sugary. "Penny is good with detail, get her to help you with that bit' or 'You need to invent a way to put up that curtain. Ask Ben to assist you, he invented a clever way to hold the door open'. Thats how you create an 'ecosystem' of workers.
6. Create a culture of happily re-doing work, because thats what designers do. We iterate. We do things once, then do them again, in case we can find a better way. We don't see it as wasteful at all.
7. Create a sense of progress. Nobody wanted to be floor monitor, because they knew other children would just dump things on the floor a few seconds later, there would be no achievement. Clever children. Get them to take before and after photos, so others can see their progress too.
Some westerners naturally do many of these things, especially people from long established cultures . cultures. Even if thats not you, putting in the effort to 'attach' such a culture to yourself will make your future life so light, and give you the freedom and power to move in whatever direct you choose.