'She really has a knack': 5-year-old is youngest spelling bee contestant ever

Tiny Edith Fuller will be competing against students three times her age at this year's Scripps National Spelling Bee.

James Gibbard/Tulsa World/AP
Edith Fuller, 5, spells a word during the 2017 Scripps Green Country Regional Spelling Bee in Tulsa, Okla., March 5.

As smartphone reliance dulls adults’ spelling senses nationwide, perhaps it’s no coincidence that the best spellers are getting younger each year.

On Saturday, 5-year-old Edith Fuller spelled her way into the history books when she became the youngest speller ever to advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, a competition open to any child who hasn’t yet finished eighth grade. To make it to the national bee, she defeated students from all over northeast Oklahoma at the Oral Roberts Global Learning Center in Tulsa.

But the seniority of her 52 elementary and middle school competitors, some more than twice her age, was no hurdle for the capable first grader, who won by spelling the word jnana (pronounced juh-nah-nuh), which appropriately means “knowledge” in Hindu philosophy.  

Among the 36 other words Edith spelled flawlessly were Panglossian, Eocene, Weimaraner, Baedeker, sarsaparilla, and Croesus.

Edith described her straightforward strategy for spelling success to local network KJRH. “Mommy asks me a word, and every time I misspell one, I will look at it,” she said.

Her mother Annie credits Edith’s remarkable memory. “She is very bright; we were amazed to find that she really has a knack for spelling,” her mom told the network. “She can remember words that she has seen and heard very easily.”

Mrs. Fuller recounts discovering her daughter's spelling prowess by accident one night at dinner last summer, when she spelled the word “restaurant” despite never having studied it officially.

“We knew there was something special there,” Fuller told the Tulsa World.

Progressing from restaurant to jnana in less than a year, the young wordsmith is certainly ahead of the curve, with the SATs still well over a decade away.

Despite defeating scores of children and teens when her own classmates are learning to read and tie their shoes, the big win hasn’t gone to Edith's head. “I feel thankful,” she told The Tulsa World.

Edith is homeschooled, as was the speller whose record she shattered, last year's then 6-year-old Akash Vukoti. Akash, who had wanted to be an astronaut until meeting Steve Harvey convinced him that show biz would be more fun, got a standing ovation after misspelling the second word, bacteriolytic, at the national competition.

While the humbling development has spelling fans around the country reeling, Fuller says she is just glad her daughter stayed focused throughout the four-hour competition.

“I’m surprised she sat still for so long,” she told The Tulsa World. “She likes to move around.”

Edith will get to make a pretty big move soon when she flies to Washington D.C. for the national spelling bee, which starts May 28.

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