by Jennifer Dees, California
HomeSchooler Magazine, June 2004.
What’s a homeschooling mom to do when her youngest child heads
off to college?
For Ann Zeise, whose son Scott just finished up his sophomore
year at the University of Hawaii , the homeschooling adventure
is not over yet. She still reigns supreme at her authoritative
Web site, sharing her widely admired expertise about homeschooling
Drop by her popular site, A to Z Home’s Cool, to find almost
any kind of homeschooling information, but first heed the posted
WARNING: "Before entering this homeschool site, be sure
small children are safely occupied, you have gone to the bathroom,
and have plenty of snacks on hand. This is a large education
site with lots to read and do!"
With over 1,000 pages on the site linked to resources throughout
the Web, the warning is apt. Yet Zeise manages the site on her
own, from home, and she likes it that way. "The advantage
of not working with other people," she says, "is that
I can just do whatever I want."
Her judgment about "what to do" has proved sound.
At the time this of this interview, the site had over 11 million
unique visitors since she started tracking visitors in 1999,
and now  gets over 800,000 page views per month. On average, each
visitor views about 2.5 pages per visit, which is a very high
average in the Web world. In Web terms, her site is "sticky"-its
wide variety of compelling content helps to keep visitors on
the site just a bit longer.
A Natural Teacher
HomeSchool Association of
California members who frequent the
group’s online mailing list are familiar with Zeise’s helpful
and authoritative guidance. Post a question asking about homeschooling
resources, or requesting advice about an upcoming field trip,
and you may be blessed with a long list of links and background
history from her treasure trove of information on a variety of
One list member jokingly asked her recently, after Zeise described
her experience as an Orff music teacher, "Ann, is there
anything you haven’t done?" She replied, "I don’t test
gravity. I don’t jump out of planes or hang glide. I don’t bungee
jump. Gravity works. No need for me to test it further."
She added, "Keep your mind open to new experiences… I
figure I still have about 20 more years of adventuring life ahead,
and hopefully, some more in which to write memoirs."
Zeise’s ability to sum up a subject, from the cowboy
history of the San Jose area, where she lives, to ancient
Roman history, demonstrates a natural ability to show others
the way. "I’m a born teacher," she says. "I’ve
been a teacher all my life. I started teaching at 11 years old,
making Conestoga wagons as a junior camp counselor at a day camp."
She was a camp counselor for years, which she enjoyed because
she considers camp activities to be "recreational learning."
She also spent many years as a Girl
Scout, "until my sophomore or junior class in high school,"
she remembers, and adds, "I’ve often found that a lot of
Girl Scouts grow up to be leaders. It’s good leadership training."
Yet her life preparation had its nontraditional aspects as
well. She attended college in the 1960s at UC
Santa Cruz in an ungraded, evaluation-based system. Her evaluations,
she says, tended to include remarks like, "She does great
written work, but she talks too much in class." Later, when
she began working, her reviews would describe her as "productive,
but she talks too much." She laughs as she adds, "That’s
never really changed!" The evaluation system at her college,
she says, was very valuable to her because "they were always
right on the nose about what my strengths and weaknesses were."
She started out at Santa Cruz as a chemistry major, but, she
says, "nothing ever worked." After taking a philosophy
class she enjoyed, she leaned in that direction, which had her
parents "tearing their hair out, asking, ‘What can you do
with a philosophy major?’"
She married halfway through college. Her husband became a
social worker, and they moved a lot. Wherever they went, she
would pick up more education courses, eventually earning a BA
and a lifetime teaching credential for California. "Now
they don’t want to honor it, " she says. She’s been told
she would need to take more courses to extend it if she wants
to teach. She shrugs and says, "Eh! Homeschoolers appreciate
me! I’ll take what I know and do that."
Becoming a Homeschooler
Zeise had one daughter, Sara (Born in 1971), who attended
public school. When her first marriage ended and she remarried,
to Fred Zeise, they had a son, Scott (Born in 1985). Scott started
out in public school as well, but in November of his fourth grade
year, Zeise pulled him out. Scott was young for his grade, because
he was very bright, she explains, and she’d been encouraged to
enter him in first grade early. For various reasons, in fourth
grade he was showing signs of feeling highly stressed. Zeise
says, "I tried to get his teachers to adjust, and they weren’t
interested. He was antsy, he wasn’t paying attention, and they
wanted to put him in a box-put a box around his desk-so he wouldn’t
Perhaps fortuitously, in retrospect, Zeise had been laid off
from jobs first at National Semiconductor, and then at Apple
Computer. She began writing documentation and business proposals
from home for a temporary service, and figured she could make
enough in one week to carry her through the month, and have the
other three weeks free. She decided, "We’re going to homeschool."
"I really knew nothing much about homeschooling,"
Zeise wrote in a post to the HSC list. "I had found a copy
of HEM [Home Education Magazine]
in an alternative bookstore, and they had a copy of a Colfax
book [Homeschooling for Excellence], so I bought
it, too. Eventually, I found Homefront Hall [a chat room] on
AOL [America Online], but the moderator would chase you out after
the moderated chat back then. I didn’t type nearly as fast as
I do now, so it was hard to get questions out in chats."
"I was probably more ditzy than most when we started,"
her post continued. "So many families spend months thinking
about it, planning for it. Me, I just went to the school district
after calling and finding out they had a homeschool program through
the district. It took me a year to find out I could go through
the tutoring option or the R4 [filing
a private school affidavit] option."
"We started out watching the History Channel," she
remembers, describing her early homeschooling years to me. "And
Scott had a lot of fun helping me proofread and edit my work."
Scott had been considered an "ADD"
student (suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder) at school.
Looking back on that time, Zeise wrote recently in an online
post to another parent considering homeschooling, "What
usually happens is that a kid gets brought home, taken off Ritalin
or whatever (do this gradually!), and then they are allowed to
get enough sleep, good food, and plenty of natural lighting and
exercise early in the day to work off the ‘wiggles.’ Away from
florescent lighting and the stress of school, the ADD just vanishes!
It becomes obvious that there wasn’t any ‘learning disability’
at all, but it was a ‘teaching disability’ that was causing the
Share What You Know
Within a short time, Zeise and her proofreading son had a
new topic for her writing projects. "We started A to Z Home’s
Cool in the second year he was homeschooled," she says.
"We had a friend from AOL [America Online] who was starting
up a First Class BBS [bulletin board service], in a garage in
Sunnyvale. They had no content yet, so I suggested homeschooling."
She started by posting California homeschooling laws on the system.
Her content quickly expanded from there.
At the 1996 HSC conference in Sacramento, Zeise borrowed the
corner of her friend Janie Levine’s booth in the exhibit hall
to demonstrate her first version of A to Z Home’s Cool, the BBS.
"I was charging a one-time fee of $10 to join," she
wrote in the April 2002 issue of the California HomeSchooler.
"Members had to have client software specially designed
just for signing on to the system, and had to dial into the 408
area code long distance if they didn’t live there."
"Many of the vendors were interested, too," she
wrote, "but weren’t too sure what a modem was. I tried to
convince them it was the wave of the future, and that they’d
be selling their wares to homeschoolers online in the near future.
Would they like to try A to Z? I had no takers. The BBS service
had many flaws, but it gave me my start with managing an online
Zeise also made many virtual friends across the country through
America Online’s homeschooling forums. Some of them met in person
at homeschooling conferences in California and elsewhere. But
both BBS enthusiasts and America Online forum fans were about
to see a huge wave overtake their virtual worlds-the Web.
Soon, Zeise was running the homeschooling section on the popular
master Web site, now named About.com, a collection of hundreds
of special interest sites. Here, she mastered the art of organizing
information and links on the Web.
"I was on About.com for almost two years," she says.
However, she was frustrated with About.com over site navigation
issues (see below), and mostly, disturbed by their policy, at
that time, of having pornographic sites available through their
site search (the current About.com site does not include porn
content). So she took her site independent.
Zeise is a longtime Mac
enthusiast, and a homegrown, self-taught Webmaster with a natural
flair for marketing a Web site. She loves to get "techie"
and talk shop. She even started her own mailing
list just for Webmasters of homeschooling sites, to discuss
the finer points of running a Web site in this market (and usually
to offer the authoritative take on issues under discussion).
She has a vested interest in helping her peers: "I’ve seen
a lot of good homeschooling sites just vanish," she says.
"My site is only as good as the wonderful homeschool
sites I link to," she wrote in a post. "My ‘secret’
is the Homeschool
Webmasters Yahoo Group, which I started and lightly moderate.
There are over 300 Webmasters of homeschool sites who help each
other with the technical and marketing aspects of running a homeschool
Web site. Our goal is to make all homeschool Web sites the best
educational sites on the Internet! You might say we are homeschooling
each other in mastering various Web tools."
Zeise has definite ideas about how to organize and present
a Web site, and how to integrate advertising tastefully. "Popular
sites are not popular by accident," she wrote in one email
to the HSC list. "They figure out what their visitors are
looking for, and give them more of it! I know exactly which pages
get the most traffic, so I spend more time making sure that they
are accurate, with working links, more links, etc."
Yet, having traveled that road herself, Zeise has homeschoolers’
best interests in mind, rather than simply trying to make the
most money possible.
"About.com wants stickiness," she explains. "So
they have no navigation. You just go back and forth, click, click,
back up, and therefore it makes it look like you’re there for
a really long time. My object is mostly to help people find what
they need, as fast as possible. That’s not the best advertising
technique. If you want the really big [advertising] money, you
want visitors totally lost on your site." Zeise laughs.
But does A to Z Home’s Cool make money? Does it need to, or
is it just a fun project for a homeschooling mom? The answer
is, it’s fun, but yes, it does need to make money. And it does
make some, but Zeise would love to see that grow. Her husband,
Fred Zeise, like so many in Silicon Valley, was laid off his
from his computer job several years ago. Money was tight for
When this article was written, Fred Zeise was at Nisvara,
a Silicon Valley startup company that didn’t yet have funding
for salaries, Fred was working on building a silent, fan-less
computer, which he is thrilled to show to visitors. His coworkers
show us carbon wire that will eventually be part of "an
elevator to a space station." It seems like an exciting
place to be.
Meanwhile, Zeise has done everything possible to make her
site a revenue-producer, short of charging for subscriptions.
One sidebar solicitation uses the "Amazon honor system"
to ask for donations: "Help keep your guide unemployed,
homeschooling, and working on this website. Thank you."
Zeise says that donations come in periodically.
She also has many links throughout the site to homeschooling
books and other books
available through Amazon.com. As an Amazon Associate, she
earns a referral fee when visitors purchase a book at Amazon,
after following a link from her site. That has been a steady
source of income for her site, but now that Amazon.com has lowered
its referral fees, that income is dropping off.
Zeise offers a Driver’s
Education course through her site, a popular option for homeschooling
teenagers. Instead of spending two weekends in the classroom
portion of their training, teenagers can take this training online
through A to Z Home’s Cool.
And, advertising helps pay the way at A to Z as well. Advertisers,
such as Keystone High School
and Laurel Springs School,
which offer diploma programs for homeschoolers, can be found
in the rails on her information-packed Web pages.
Spreading the Word
Besides her online work, Zeise used to contribute a regular
column to Home Education
Magazine, sharing her expertise in finding resources on the
"What I’m good at," Zeise wrote in one of her online
posts, "is building online communities and making lists
and such… People keep thinking I know everything I link to
on my site. I don’t! I’d link to them because I did not know
something, liked what I read on the links, and thought I’d bookmark
them for others sharing the same questions or interests. It’s
like writing research papers: you read enough, take some notes,
and then you write about something, and express your opinion
about it. Unless it is a personal story, the essays are researched
shortly before they get posted. Someone once asked, ‘What do
I do with all these bookmarks?’ I jokingly said, ‘Put them on
a Web site!’ In another life, I probably was a librarian."
Zeise is always ready to share homeschooling tips, whenever
and wherever she meets an interested parent. During our interview
at NASA’s Mountain View Visitor Center, while my daughter checks
out the Mars exhibit, Zeise describes someone she met at the
exhibit’s opening. "There was a fellow who was planning
to go yachting,"
she says. "He made his fortune here in [Silicon] Valley.
He and his family were going to take off in a big double-hulled
catamaran for the South Seas. I said, ‘I bet you’re going to
homeschool,’ and he said, ‘Yeah!’"
"I told him, ‘I’ve got this big homeschooling Web site,’
and he said, ‘I can’t figure out how we’re going to do science
on the boat.’ I told him, ‘That’s probably the easiest thing
for you to do. There’s marine
biology, weather, navigation, astronomy.’"
"The whole point of science," she continues to me,
"is to really get the scientific method down pat. They could
do chemistry, evaluating
the salt water…who knows. The point is, people worry too much.
They’re so used to being told they have to do X-Y-Z."
Scott Zeise’s path to a
four-year university has paralleled that of quite a few other
homeschoolers. He started taking courses at Ohlone
Community College in Fremont at 15. In January of 2004, his
mom accompanied him to Oahu, where he transferred to the University
of Hawaii as a sophomore.
Although Zeise’s expertise continues to be a valuable asset
to homeschoolers with children at home, it must feel different
from the days when she was learning at home with her son. Indeed,
says Zeise, "I miss having kids over at the house all the
Originally published in the California
HomeSchooler Magazine, June 2004. All rights reserved.