Meet Ann Zeise:
Homescool from A to Z
Homeschooling Supporter, Practitioner and Guide
Website url from, © 1997 – 2013, was homeschooling.gomilpitas.com, and called “A to Z Home’s Cool,” which didn’t help those searching for “homeschool” resources very much.
Ann is still going strong and helping those looking to home school their children with her over 2000 pages of homeschool information, links, jokes, how-to articles, homeschool support groups, homeschooling state laws, history of homeschooling, and a plethora of educational support for homeschoolers. From how to make Gak from common household ingredients to how to start homeschooling. She is currently involved in updating her website with a more contemporary feel. Besides keeping up generally with homeschool issues you can find her on Facebook. Come follow her on https://www.facebook.com/a2zhomeschooling.
by Jennifer Dees, The California Homeschooler.
What’s a homeschooling mom to do when her youngest child heads off to college?
For Ann Zeise, whose son Scott graduated from 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 resources.
You are on her popular site, A to Z Home’s Cool, where you find almost any kind of homeschooling information, but first heed this 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 2,000 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 of this interview, the site had over 125 million unique visitors since she started tracking visitors in 1999, and now  gets over 1,800,000 unique visitors per year. On average, each visitor views about 2.8 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 association’s Facebook group 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 subjects.
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.” She was a Girl Scout assistant leading while in college, and a leader for her daughter’s troop around 1981.
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, “I got bored trying to identify white powders and clear liquids.” 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?'” Her emphasis was on the nature of mass movements through history and at the current time.
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 be distracted.”
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 PSA [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 problems!”
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, 1994,” 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 homeschooling forum.”
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 Thought.co, 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 Facebook group just for Webmasters of homeschooling sites, to discuss the finer points of running a Web site or blog 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, now on Facebook, 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 or blog. Our goal is to make all homeschool sites the best educational sites on the Internet! You might say we are homeschooling each other in mastering various Web tools, such as WordPress.”
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 more than a year ago. Money is tight for the couple. Purchasing from advertisers on the blog help Ann earn income and pay for the expenses of working on the site almost every day, all day.
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.
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. They has been a steady source of income for her site. Canadians are also encouraged to make purchases through Amazon.ca through links on A2Z.
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. Current, subscribers through links for DriversEd on Ann’s site get 15% off the usual price.
And, advertising helps pay the way at A to Z as well. Advertisers, such as Global Village 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 Internet.
“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 the University of Hawaii, Manoa, a four-year university, and has paralleled that of quite a few other homeschoolers. He started taking courses at Ohlone Community College in Fremont at age 15. In January of 2004, his mom accompanied him to Oahu, where he transferred to the University of Hawaii as a sophomore. He graduated when he was 20 years old, with a BA in Economics just in time for the recession to hit.
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 time.”
Originally published in the California HomeSchooler Magazine, June 2004. Updates have been made through the years. All rights reserved. Anyone wishing permission to reprint this article should contact [email protected].