Just some random, somewhat incoherent thoughts (keeping in mind I am on prescription meds LOL just in case this makes no sense):
1. As soon as a child is able to dump the toys from the toybox, they can be playfully taught that the flow of toys can go both ways...both out of and into the toy box. You don't have to be a drill Sergent about it. In fact, it's probably better if you aren't. Just show them that the same toys that went sprawling over the floor can now jump back in now that they are done.
On that note too, less is more with toys. This is not easy to enforce when you have enthusiastic grandparents buying toys, but you can pack up some toys seasonally and rotate them so that there is less of an overwhelming feeling regarding all of those toys, and it becomes easier to clean the room.
2. This desire to help that a young child or toddler has needs to be harnessed now. If you wait until they are of an age to be really helpful to your standards, then you will find them less willing to be your helper. A 2 year old doesn't do a perfect job setting a table, but she loves to help and will be encouraged if you help her and also, over time, show her how to do it right.
3. Toddlers/Preschoolers can do things like this:
- Hold the dustpan for you while you sweep (and empty it into the trash)
- Put their own toys away (maybe with help)
- Put silverware around, and napkins, when setting a table
- Follow you around as your "helper"...for example when I've made bread, I would knead it well, and then let my younger ones knead for a while. Of course the bread didn't need to be kneaded any further. However, talk about thankful! I can't knead bread right now at all with this shoulder, but I have five someone's who can!
- Make their dirty laundry hit the laundry hamper, and put their pj's under thier pillow in the morning
- Maybe even make their bed somewhat, with help
- Dig around in the garden with you, help plant plants or seeds, and do some weeding after being instructed which ones to pull (with supervision!).
...all with heaps of praise!!! It's little things like this that will help them as they grow.
4. "Chores" is not sticking a chore chart on the wall and expecting them to do it even with the promise of a sticker or some other treat. Until they are about 8-9, and maybe even after that, they need to be reminded, encouraged, shown, taught, trained, and directed as to what to do, so that when they are 15 they can look around the house and say, "Oh, I should sweep the mess up in the kitchen even though it's not on the chart."
Having worked lots of odd jobs over the years before having children, especially as a night-manager of a donut shop, and one of the assistant managers of a restaurant, I want to point out that the ability to look around and see what needs to be done without being told is a skill that very few people enter adulthood with. I'll even admit that I didn't really learn this skill until I was left in charge of a restaurant one day when my boss had an emergency. I didn't want to disappoint, s I wanted the kitchen to look as good as when he had to run out of there to the hospital, and I suddenly realized how annoying it is to have people look at you and ask "I washed this pan over here. What should I do now?" (uh....dry it, put it away, and wash the other pans!!!!) when it should have been obvious. I had instant sympathy for my boss. Some direction giving is necessary, of course, but sometimes it is frustrating when you have adults who can't see that, if one dirty pan needs to be washed that perhaps all of them do.
My husband once was hired for a job because, while waiting for his interview, he fixed something that was malfunctioning in the shop without asking for any remuneration. His volunteering to do this showed a prospective boss that he was a go-getter and hard worker.
Younger children need you to be guiding and directing them, so that being able to know what to do soon becomes second nature, a habit developed (I appreciate Charlotte Mason's philosophy on training children in good habits from a young age). You can't, for example, say "Clean the kitchen" to a younger or untrained child or group of children. You will be more effective if you show them, multiple times, what it means to clean the kitchen, start to finish. Now when I say to one of my older kids, "Could you please clean the kitchen?" they know what I mean (mostly ;)). Sometimes they'll ask, "A deep clean or just picking up?" because my daughter knows that I don't always mean to empty out all of the cupboards and wipe down shelves. Some of them are still learning. I just had a training moment with my two younger daughters who were cleaning the kitchen up and thought it better to start from the floor and work up (We went back over the whole idea of cleaning top to bottom, and doing the floor last, and they saw why when they saw how bad the floor looked after cleaning off the counter where we were baking).
To sum up this point, training children how to work when they are younger is more valuable to you, long term, than the help they are providing, because at this training level they are taking way more time than it would cost you to just do it yourself, and I'll admit...it's easier to just do it yourself many times. I have been tempted to do it, and I have done it many times. However, the more you work with them, especially when you are not in a time crunch, the better it is long term.
5. A Spoonful of Sugar helps the medicine go down. Yes, we watched too much Mary Poppins when Ruth was a toddler. However, the principle works well. If you are showing them that cleaning and work is something to begrudgingly tolerate until it's time to have fun, then don't expect them to be cheerful about helping. You are not just training them to work, but you are also training an attitude about work. This is hard if we were trained with a not so great attitude about work, and maybe view it as punishment.
Many times I have found child training and raising (and even marriage for that matter!) to be like sandpaper rubbing off my rough edges, and the parts of me that needed to change. Nothing convicts you more than looking into the face of one of your kids and seeing one of your negative traits reflecting back. Ouch. The Bible says that as iron sharpens iron, we sharpen each other (paraphrase of Proverbs 27:17). Specifically, Proverbs refers to our friends in this verse, but I think it is even more true within the context of our homes and families who see the good, bad and ugly on a daily basis.