Many years ago I was helping my mother by digging a new garden in her backyard. It was hard work on a hot day cutting through established sod, clearing it away then prepping the dirt underneath.
In those days, very few of the homes in our neighbourhood had fences so kids could run freely between backyards and out into the nearby fields - where I as a kid used to build underground forts.
By coincidence the neighbours next door were having a party for their son's seventh or so birthday. The boy's father was a nice guy who was an up and comer with a major employer in our southern Ontario city. So he wasn't home as often as he would like.
The party was pretty much over and the boys were beginning to wander over to where this incredible hulk of a man was tearing away at the lawn. Actually it was more like this tall, skinny, dude in glasses struggling to avoid heat stroke on a humid August day.
Sure enough one of them said. "Watcha doin' mister?"
I said " I am making a vegetable garden for my Mom." And in a moment of brilliance (actually desperation), I said "Wanna help?"
Within minutes I had: a) a chief sod roller b) a wheelbarrow dumping team c) a digging crew and a compost captain. Working together, we managed to do the remaining work in about an hour, happily digging, dumping and spreading dirt... together. Just as we were finishing the birthday boy's father walked over and said to the boys "Nice work boys, there's more ice cream left." As they raced away to eat,he turned to me and asked " How the hell did you get them to do the work?"
My answer: " I asked them."
What I didn't say is that I made it fun, I gave them specific responsibility and basically left them to themselves once the task was defined. Plus we were outside in the fresh air working together.
Young boys love this type of physical work. Especially when you ask them to do it with you and not order them to do it by themselves.
So get your boys outside, coach them, give them a task for them to be responsible for and reward them with guidance, praise or ice cream.... or all of the above. Most important, spend as much personal time with them as you can before the age of eight. They need you then.
But hurry. Because by the time they turn twelve, they won't be nearly as cooperative.