A natural hierarchy?
It seems that my younger son will take direction from his older brother, but not from me. This is fine by me: I don't like giving direction anyway. But if he wants to know how to do something, or what's happening next, or where to work next, he doesn't talk to me about it, he goes to his brother. Tom will then answer the query if possible, in consultation with Al. Only if they're both stuck for an answer will they involve me in the discussion.
I can discuss concepts and ideas (mainly about our off-grid plan, but on other things too) with the younger children, but they don't really engage with the conversation as much as does their older brother. You might put that down (as I did) to their younger age, but then I noticed that they will each engage with the next sibling up in discussions about ideas and concepts.
And when it comes to getting anything done, each one responds to directions from the next sibling up (in the form of: "It's time to do this - come on!") more than from me. It's like a cascade effect. I'm learning that I have to pass the word down the chain if I want to achieve maximum effect with minimum effort.
A system was once used in schools with huge (more than 100 : 1) class sizes, which sought to capitalise on this seemingly natural hierarchical function. The adult teacher would teach the lesson to a few of the brightest children, who would then each take a group of other children and pass it on. This was common practice in schools in the 1800s, but even in the 1990s, in the village school my older children attended as youngsters, cleverer and/or older children were often asked to help others with their learning on an informal basis.
If teaching is necessary to consolidate our learning, this system makes good sense. Anyway, it's just what my children do so for them, it must be right.
When it comes to motivating each other to do things, a word from the next sibling up definitely seems to be the required element and, I'm learning, I bypass that natural order at my peril. I can ask and ask to the person directly for a thing to be done, but unless I'm asking the oldest child, the chances are it won't happen. He will then ask his brother, who tells his sister, and the message passes down and is appropriately enforced with great effect.
So much for my hippy dippy ideas about freedom and individual expression! This new realisation kind of blows all of that out of the water. But, ever a child of the 60s, I will go with the flow and change my behaviour accordingly instead of continuing to try swimming upstream.