One of the most important goals in Montessori education is to teach the child to be independent. One of our most commonly uttered phrases is "Teach me to do it myself."
Children seem to have low confidence in their ability to do things on their own. I think it is because we seem to coddle children more and more. I still have parents who scoop up their four year-olds and carry them down the sidewalk. They fulfill every demand and desire, without giving the child a chance to attempt it on his own. It is definitely easier to just do it all for your child, but that is only true in the beginning. As a child is learning how to do something like put on her coat, it takes a long time. You're trying to rush out the door so that you are not late for work. But if you would just put in the effort to teach her how to do it herself, you will find that it saves you time in the long run.
Before I help a child do anything in my classroom, I insist that he try it by himself first and it has to be a valid effort. If there are struggles, I show him how to to break down the task into more manageable steps. It can be demanding of my time and energy, but it always pays off.
One of my favorite recent stories about independence in my classroom involves a five year-old boy and the drying rack. We were painting large murals of frogs hiding in some kind of habitat, following a lesson on camouflage. Each piece of paper was about the same size as each wire shelf. This boy is one who has a lot of anxiety and can get easily frustrated when he can't do something exactly right the first time. We have spent the past several weeks working on showing him what he is capable of doing.
He came over to the drying rack and tried to put the paper on the shelf. It didn't work. He tried again. It still didn't work. I just continued to wash dishes, while observing him and watching the other children paint. He finally pulled the tray out of the rack and placed his painting on it. He spent a total of 20 minutes trying to figure out how to put that paper on the wire tray and how to get it back on the drying rack. When he did, he had the biggest smile on his face, demonstrating a great sense of accomplishment. He then quickly volunteered to help the other children, for the rest of the afternoon and into the next day.
How many other people would have simply taken over and denied him the opportunity of figuring it out on his own? We have a tendency to step in too quickly to "help" children. There is a greater lesson when they have to try again through trial and error.