Something that I began to do when I was a very new parent, almost twenty years ago, when Sarah was a toddler, was to begin questioning every "No" that was about to fall from my lips. Sarah was inquisitive; always moving, touching, tasting, going. Being a parent was a new experience, and I was learning on the job and seeing what I could learn about it as I was doing it. And I found that a lot of times my gut was just to say "No, don't do that." But then, when I thought about it, I wondered, "Why? Is that really a problem?" and it turned out it wasn't really a problem. (Although I have always been particular that my children be makpid about other people's homes, belongings, and personal space.) Can they climb up that? Sure, if I spotted them to make sure to be there to catch them if they fell. Can they taste that? Well, I suppose so--it's disgusting but it's not poisonous or dangerous. (In retrospect, the crumpling of the styrofoam is not something I care to repeat because the cleanup was pretty difficult.)
It became something of a habit for me to say, "No. Oh--wait a minute. Yeah, I don't see why not." I would think about reasons not to and if they just made me uncomfortable but weren't actually dangerous, then I would agree. I got more used to saying, "Well okay, but I'm worried about the mess. Will you help me clean up afterwards?" And most things they did weren't bad, and it gave them freedom, and they got to follow their curiosity, and they learned a lot, and things were either just fine or they discovered it was distasteful for themselves, and really, why should they trust me that something is yucky? Let them decide for themselves.
I recently joined a radical unschooling group on facebook, which a. made me realize I'm not 100% radical unschooling and b. reminds me of a lot of very loving and kind parenting practices that unschoolers have.
So we were on the beach today, and we were fortunate to see some fishermen seining. And we looked at all the little fish they were catching as bait. And they were kind enough to give all the kids some fish for their buckets. And some of the fish died. And Jack asked if they were kosher. And we looked for fins and scales, and there were. And the man happened to have explained to my mother-in-law to pinch off the head and squeeze out the guts and fry it. And Jack asked if he could take them home, and I said No. Because even though I don't say an automatic No anymore, the time Elazar brought a dead crab home still resounds in my olfactory memory, even though he left it outside. And then when Jack asked if he could bring them home and eat them... I said ok.