A few years ago we were visiting my family who still live near the Amish. I went to a neighbor's house to buy cow's milk. It was in the upper-twenties outside and the ground was icy. As I drove up to the house I noticed two tiny boys standing by a fence outside, watching their daddy do the evening chores. One of them looked about two years old and the other about eleven months. The little one could not keep his balance very well and was propped up on the fence; soon he slipped and fell down on the ice. He was so thoroughly bundled up that neither his feet nor his head touched the ground and he teetered back and forth on the huge round of coat and belly until his daddy turned him right-side-up against the fence once again. Granted, the two boys were not accomplishing much; but they were being trained to go out and do chores with Daddy while Mama put dinner on the table.
A few days later we returned home to New Mexico and I looked at my almost-three-year-old David with a speculative eye. He already had a few small tasks, but most of his time was filled with following me around the house asking questions. I looked around the house for all the short-attention-span jobs I could find and even made up a few.
At first, when I asked him to help me clean a room, he would tell me that he didn't know what to do.
“Okay.” I told him, “Each thing that you pick up and put away is worth one point. Each point is worth a chocolate chip. I'm going to pick up stuff too, and if I pick everything up, then I get all the chocolate chips.”
Suddenly his budding observation skills kicked in. Objects that had been invisible ten seconds earlier were suddenly screaming for attention. He not only had to pick things up, he had to put them away as well, so for the first hundred or so times of clean-up there were a lot of “Where do I put this?” questions.
I began to employ the phrase “What needs to be done?”
Over the years the children have all learned to look around and answer me, “Laundry! Dishes! I haven't done my math yet! Rose made a mess—I'll help her clean it.”
When visiting their great-grandparents the children look around and see “what needs to be done” before they leave. Usually it's just cleaning up their own projects, but sometimes Granny will need something moved or cleaned. And while their great-grandparents enjoy hearing piano recitals and reading accomplishments, most of all they enjoy the friendly capability the kids have of simply seeing each other's needs and rising to the occasion.