One of the most well known phrases in the Montessori world is "Help me do it myself". I think that it is so well known because it really summarizes the Montessori philosophy in its very essence. While Montessori school are known for their academics, many people quickly discover the push for independence. Children in Montessori classrooms are given the space to be independent and the tools that allow them to do so successfully With child sized materials and furniture, the Prepared Environment in the classroom encourages independence. The same is true for Montessori homes.
In our home we have adapted the environment to allow our children to be independent in many ways. We have always encouraged them to try to do it themselves, and if they need help to ask for it. As soon as our son started talking he could say "help please!" It sounded a bit like "hupppeee", but we understood what he meant It should have come to no surprise when about a month ago he started saying, "help please, do it!" By which he meant "Help me to do it by myself." He is 100% in the do it himself stage, but he is not always able to do things completely on his own. He figured out that he can sk for help while still making it clear to us that he would like to participate as much as possible. This is a very important transition that we all must make as a family. Although it can be very tiring some times when your toddler wants to do things himself. It can almost seem absurd sometimes. Like when you have to unbuckle his car seat, so that he can buckle it himself. Or when you have to take the dirty shirt out of the laundry basket so he can put it in. However annoying this may seem, and no matter how much longer these actions take, it is essential that children are allowed to "do it" on their own or tot he best of their ability during this time that they have the interest to do so.
Maria Montessori said, "Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed." The key to this sentence is the word FEELS. Note - it is not about what you feel the child can do, or what you feel is the easiest or quickest way to do it, but what he feels he can do. You have to let him have the opportunity to try, and then ask for your help if he needs it. When you do help, after being asked, you only help as much as is needed. An example is when your toddler is getting dressed. My almost two year old can get his shirt over his head, but can quite get his arms through the holes, once he does he can pull down the front and back to straighten it.
Not only do children learn to do things for themselves through independence, but they also learn that they are capable. If toddlers aren't given the opportunity to try, do and sometimes fail at their own tasks they risk loosing the desire to do things for themselves. Parents and teachers who help and do things for their children all the time often claim to do so out of love. These children quickly pick up on this message, and soon beleive "If you love me you will serve me!"