It will get tougher onstage at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center when the home-schooled girl from Woodbridge faces 277 opponents, most of whom are at least twice her age. Last year, the winning word was “cymotrichous,” which means having wavy hair. The previous winner spelled “stromuhr,” which is a medical instrument.
But Speller 269, who will compete for $30,000, among other prizes, reports that she isn’t particularly nervous and isn’t cramming.
“I just do as much as I can,” Lori Anne said. “I don’t stress out about it. Plus, I’m 6. I can always go back next year.” She said she hopes to win at age 8 or 9.
Sorina Vlaicu Madison, Lori Anne’s mother and primary teacher, said she and her daughter have no problem eschewing books and academic pursuits if the outside world is more inviting or their minds are tired. That means swim lessons, play dates, time for games like Angry Birds on the Kindle, and visits to an indoor play center called Kids N Motion.
Madison, who teaches health policy at a local university, laughs at the assumption that she has driven her daughter to spelling heights, perhaps by sheer will or intolerance for failure.
“You can’t drill a 6-year-old,” Madison said. “You can’t really force them to do anything.”
Marcia Invernizzi, a University of Virginia education professor who studies language, said people who think the spelling bee is all about rote memorization and “freakish” children are mistaken.
“These kids are prodigies just like a young violinist or a pianist,” Invernizzi said. She said great spellers memorize a lot of words, but know they can’t possibly learn them all. Instead, they learn to break down words and analyze how their parts fit into the patterns of English.
That someone Lori Anne’s age can grasp such concepts, Invernizzi said, is “pretty remarkable.”
Lori Anne’s favorite way to study for bees is through a site called
. Sometimes she picks up books, such as Verbomania, that have lists of words that she likes to read in her flowery pink car seat in the back of her mom’s sport-utility vehicle as they shuttle from one activity to another.
SpellingCity offers, among other games, a quizzing tool called “hang mouse,” akin to the game of hangman. She works on a desktop computer in a home office she shares with her mother.
Madison said Lori Anne has a natural ability with language and an insatiable appetite to learn. She likes to read books from the Percy Jackson series and The Kane Chronicles, both by Rick Riordan.
She loves the thrill of competition. So when she was told about spelling bees — the stage, the microphone, the understanding of a possible “cute, shiny trophy,” as her mom put it — there was little hesitation.