(AP) McLEAN, Va. -This week, a precocious 6-year-old will be onstage with youngsters more than twice her age - and twice her size - as one of 278 students who have qualified for the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Lori Anne Madison has hit all her milestones early. She was reading before she was 2. When her mother tried to enroll her in a private school for the gifted, the headmaster said Lori Anne was too smart to accommodate and needed to be home-schooled.
"She's like a teenager in a 6-year-old body," her mother, Sorina, said. "Her brain, she understands things way ahead of her age."
When Lori Anne spelled "vaquero" to win the regional bee in Prince William County, Virginia, in March, she set a new standard for youth in the national bee's 87-year history.
"It was shocking," Sorina said. "I didn't expect all the media attention. We're private people. We're regular people. It was intimidating. But I'm happy for her. She loves it and she does it because it's a passion, and we never push her into anything and want her to make her own choices."
Lori Anne was more than happy to let a reporter and photographer tag along at a picnic with other gifted home-schooled children, but she steered any questions about spelling back toward the day's pursuit of snails, tadpoles and other slimy things.
On all the attention she's getting: "I asked for no interviews, but the media seems to be disobeying me, and that's why we're looking for snails and water slugs right now."
Asked to spell her favorite word, she raced through the letters of "sprachgefuhl" like a blur. Asked to spell it backward, she paused a bit and had to take her time, but she got it right.
"It's even crazier backwards than it is forwards," she said with a giggle. "Now let's look for some slugs or snails."
The spelling bee doesn't have a lower age limit, but no one younger than 8 had ever previously qualified for the nationals. Spellers can compete until they're 15, or until they've completed eighth grade.
"She doesn't sit at a table for hours to study anything. I mean, she's 6," Sorina said with laugh. "She's still a 6-year-old, and we want to allow her to be a 6-year-old."
But, at this pace, she'll be a spelling bee force for years to come.
Asked how she thinks she'll do this year, Lori Anne simply answered, "Great" and kept on hunting.