Trust is a huge aspect in being able to get Unschooling to work. It is easier said than done as we have been brainwashed/indoctrinated/led to believe that unless we sit children down and instruct them with a predetermined path that they will a) never want to learn and b) be unable to learn. Both of which are inaccurate. Children are devourers of information, knowledge and the way the world works around them. With an attentive engaged and thoughtful adult to guide them, they will learn all they need. We all learn in many different ways, and being invested in your children means you will all work out what works best for you and them. Providing a variety of tools, resources, activities outings and opportunities will ensure that they are exposed to many different topics and a variety of knowledge and so will be able to follow new interests and new ideas.
It is easier to trust when they are little and everything is new and interesting and our guides are books/information that talks about milestones and "wide variety" to achieve those milestones - its ok to be early or behind they will generally all get there (eg Walking). Harder to trust in the older years when you are very aware that schools have benchmarks and tests, and standards and being "at level" is deemed essential to progressing to the next level (eg Reading). Harder to trust when your own tweens/teens dont seem to be moving forward at a fast pace, when they spend days/weeks doing “nothing” but actually that nothing is still something. Being aware and informed as to what specifically they are doing does help to see a pattern or a theme to their interest, watch their movies, buy or borrow books and magazines and more to support those interest, keep an eye out for things in the community that follows those themes – be focused on what they are enjoying and not what you think they should be doing (that will come as they will want to cover at least the basics at some point).
One of the ways I helped to let go of insisting they sit down for Maths or have lessons in English was to actually read a great deal about how learning happens and how we learn best. While we occasionally work through a problem in a more systematic fashion, most concepts come from life experiences, opportunities. I learnt extensively and read about unschoolers outcomes and homeschoolers in general and I also investigated any "failures", I needed to see what was the worst case scenario, I needed to feel safe and confident that this alternative path I was choosing, did have "outcomes" that were highly desirable for my own family. I had to work on what we actually did want for our children in their future, what would be the "pinnacle of success" for us, what were the key features we envisioned for our kids, after having 40 odd years to try and work that out for ourselves. (Note while I write I it was a joint process of discussion and sharing knowledge with my husband). I also familiarised myself with the Australian Curriculum (as that is seen as the “standard”) and felt more comfortable with what we were doing and how that sits within the curriculum and I also became more familiar with how some countries around the world did things differently and how their education ranking is much higher than our own and so felt happier within myself in trusting in a different process.
I know how far I have come; from leaving "the education" of my children up to a "good school" (I knew that private schools only made for wealthy peers, not necessarily improvement in life outcomes so that choice wasnt overly hard), to realising that life is learning and we learn all the time. If I am present and engaged with my children then they will learn and remember and apply and understand, what they need to achieve all that they want to, when they are ready (eg we froze water iceblocks yesterday and so my 4 year old asking heaps of questions covered about grade 3 science with "states of water/matter" while The 9 year old was fascinated with the crystal ice formations).
In teens that trust is harder, but I learnt and I try and remember that the bottom line is that they want to be successful adults, they want to be part of society, they want to learn and grow and make friends, and see what the world has to offer, as well as what they have to offer the world....so they will get there when they are ready. I now believe that that inner desire wouldnt be as obvious or as easily accessible in a high stress environment, one where they need to defend themselves, meet more deadlines than most adults, and still be forming views of the world and more does not make for an ideal environment to learn. Being able to test their theories, make friends, learn what they need and want in a friend, without 20 others telling them what they should be doing is one of many aspects to our lives that I appreciate daily. They still have a peer group, and they do all the things teen seem to do (without lots of the negative aspects) and most people tell me how lovely they are. My teens sleep a lot (and I let them as sleep is so important to the physical and mental health), but it took me a while to let that go, and I did wake them and had grumpy kids for no other reason than I decided they needed to be up - and then I would hear about why they went to be late and all the amazing things they had been doing with other from around the world (from moderating groups, to role playing with friends, to handholding a friend through a crisis). So instead we learnt to communicate better and they manage their time according to whats expected the next day - yes we have some days where its obvious they are still needing to learn more about how to achieve that, but it will come with our guidance (not our insistence).
Our 15 year old has done half a year at TAFE and has organised herself to achieve all that was required and more, she is a night owl and yet has done extremely well and achieved her Certificate III, and is excitedly starting her Diploma this week. The course had a high workload and expectations at Adult level and she did it (she couldnt have 2 years ago, but once they know what they want to do and how to get there you cant hold them back). She is completing the required maths to get to an Engineering degree after completing the Diploma, as its never too late and once you set your mind to it, its completed in a shorter time with more motivation and understanding than could ever be achieved earlier (especially with her diagnosis of ASD, ADHD and ODD).
I know if I was still fighting, arguing, coercing, demanding, threatening, guilt tripping and all those other expected parenting “techniques” that my teens would not feel responsible for their futures, they wouldn’t feel empowered to try new things, or learn more about anything on their own or with us, and that they would be more hesitant about their future goals and life if they were “standardised” like a number in a system. I know I wouldn’t be as connected to them or trust that they will seek me out and share whatever is happening in their lives if needed. They know I am there to support them, that we have the big picture in mind, that we can access all they need to learn more in any area of life, that we will communicate, discuss anything and everything (nothing is off limits), that we are honest and connected and would prefer to guide our children to their adult lives with the knowledge they are amazing and unique and will get wherever they choose to head and that we will provide whatever they need to get there. They know they can make mistakes and learn even more and that they will have our experience of how to move forward and take ownership of their choices. I trust that with our support, guidance and connection that our children will find their path to whatever they want to achieve.