I love how Montessori children like to help each other. They also like to help the adults in the environment. In my classroom, we encourage them to help each other more and to depend on us less. To do this, we have what is known as the "Three Friend Rule." I had read about it once on a Montessori blog and thought it was a great idea. Three years later, it is still running strong in the room.
The Three Friend Rule means you have to ask at least three other friends for help before you can come ask an adult. And for my little stinkers, we emphasize it has to be three friends who are capable of helping. For example, you may not ask three 3 year-olds to tie your shoe and then ask an adult. You have to ask the children who actually know how to do it. (And yes, I have a bunch of darling stinkers who try such things! Lol)
The thing is, it actually works. The children learn to reach out to each other. They learn by teaching each other how to do each task. They also develop more independence as they have to problem solve.
The first time one of my new parents came in to observe the classroom last fall, she was horrified that I didn't help her daughter when she asked for help. Later, when I explained to her why I redirected her daughter to the other children, she understood. She also commented that she noticed how easily her daughter found someone to help and how the other children were happy to do it. She realized the value of what I was teaching her daughter.
A lot of our children crave being needed somehow. This is why they want to be helpers. Yes, many times it would be faster if we just did it ourselves, but what good is that? We are here to teach children how to function in life, not to do it all for them. You simply need to show them how they can help. Break down the tasks into manageable steps for the individual child. As she masters each one, allow her to do more and more. Before you know it, she will spontaneously do it by herself every time!
Another thing I do is encourage the children to help each other during a spill. The first and most important step when a child spills something is to ask if he is okay. The child may obviously not be physically injured, but he could feel bad about having made a mess. He may be afraid that he is going to get into trouble. Asking this question lets him know that it is okay that he made a mistake. Then you can help him fix it. Many times, the children already rush over to help clean up a spill. If they just stand there watching or laugh, I suggest that they either try to help or return to their activities. I almost never step in to assist the child. The only time I do is if there is shattered glass on the floor.
How do you encourage helping in the classroom?