An update to all my ramblings in the last few days: I think I need to say no and do less with groups of homeschoolers. My oldest son in eighth grade needs to do more things that he wants and needs to do to get to his end goal. Alternatively if what we are doing outside was more rigorous it would suffice but at this moment, outside things are not an equivalent replacement for what could be done at home or with online classes.
I have a general gist of what my son needs to do to prep for applying to college to seek an engineering degree. I have a lot more to learn, details about AP exams and SAT subject tests and so forth. I know enough to know the things we're doing in groups won't get him to that goal (or at least what we're doing right at this very second). I know enough to know he needs more seat time at home doing book lessons or watching The Teaching Company college courses, or doing online classes and maybe in grade ten to begin taking a community college class.
His major focus this year is math. I want him to finish Algebra I and to be on to Algebra II before July 1. He will do math year-round in order to get all the maths in line so he can do advanced sciences that have math pre-requisites. My husband would love for him to have finished Calculus I before entering college. A friend is telling me Calculus I should be finished before the end of his Junior year, in order to do an AP Physics class in his Senior year. That sounds lofty to me. Honestly I don't think the majority of engineering students from American public schools did AP Physics in public high school. Then again, that friend (whose advice I respect) is evaluating my son against competing students for college admisions to American colleges who are from around the WORLD (with better math programs than America has, some would say).
Another focus this year is study skills, time management and self-organization.
We are also integrating the new program for him, the Davis Dyslexia program, this is a learning curve for both of us. My son's ability to get his schoolwork done and retained in his long term memory is a bit challenged due to dyslexia, and a bit of a slowed visual processing speed which affects reading comprehension and requires different study skills to master and memorize content. Also when we do too much running around and he misses sleep he gets overly fatigued and gets a relapse of mononucleosis symptoms (which he had in 2009). These are all factors we have to work around that make things a bit tricky regarding cramming a ton of content in to get through it or that makes living a life with a pace of running around like a chicken with one's head cut off a bad idea.
I am not yet going to try to dissuade my son from his goal just because the road he has to hoe to get there is not an easy one for him. I do acknowledge that not all children are cut out to do the work of an engineer but don't want to be the one, or at least not just yet, to close that door for my son. I do believe where there is a will there is a way. Having been in the opposite situation myself, where my father was not open to my desired life course (traditional college attendance), I am perhaps over-compensating by bending over backwards in order to not just open doors but keep them propped open and help my struggling learner make it through. I also have to enrich myself with information and motivation and keep my spirits boosted high so that I can be here to do the ideal things for my son.
(At this point I worry that if he were to attend traditional school as my husband suggested a few days ago, just to make it easier on me and us to not have to worry so much about if we are doing enough or the right thing by homeschooling, I believe it would introduce new problems for learning due to his dyslexia and visual processing disorder. If homeschooling can help him avoid some of that while still having quality learning experiences and get him ready for college work, which I think it can, then I would like him to continue homeschooling, but only if the path is going to the right place.)
I need to sit down and write out my son's plans such as all the outside classes he has already started or will be starting by the end of September. I have a feeling when it's all down on paper it will look impressive rather than my short term memory reminding me of all he is not doing yet.
Thanks to everyone for your encouragement and links to sources for information. The big problem is not my ignorance about what the colleges want, it's that I'm too moved by pursuasive friends and acquaintences who want my children in the group events that their children are in, in order to make the program run and/or because they like my kids and want their kids to be around them more often. It's a compliment that I should take while at the same time saying, "No, thank you, we don't have time for that. I'm sorry."