Helper palettes should pop up when you click on the Type Tool, the Brush Tool, the Eraser Tool or the Clone Stamp Tool. When you click Type Tool, AE should automatically bring up the Character and Paragraph Palettes; when you click any of the brush tools (Brush, Eraser or Clone Stamp), AE bring up the Paint and Brush Tips palettes.
If you don't see palettes automatically popping up but want them to do so, select a tool and check the Auto Open Palettes option at the bottom of the Tools palette, which you'll see only when the Text, Brush, Eraser or Clone Stamp tool is selected).
If you'd rather not be surprised by pop-up palettes, uncheck the Auto Open Palettes option. You can manually summon the helper palettes by clicking the palette icon in the bottom-left corner of the Tools palette.