How to parent a Spelling Bee champion? NDTV talks to Snigdha Nandipati's father

How to parent a Spelling Bee champion? NDTV talks to Snigdha Nandipati's father
New York:  When Snigdha Nandipati won this year's Spelling Bee she maintained a record. For the past 5 years in a row, Indian American's have won the Spelling Bee. 10 of the last 14 winners are Indian Americans. Why do Indian American kids dominate these information processing contests? Do the parents have a role to play? Do Indian parents push their kids too far, too soon?  NDTV's Sarah Jacob put these questions across to the father of the 2012 Spelling Bee Champion Mr. Kirshnarao Nandipati.

NDTV: This is as much as achievement for you and your wife. Congratulations!

Mr Nandipati: It is very exciting. We are both proud of her. The entire family is proud of her. All her efforts have paid off. She a lot further to go but to reach this stage is excellent.

NDTV: There has been a lot of debate in the US recently about parenting skills. Are you a Tiger Dad?

Mr Nandipati: This is not a tiger mom kind of situation. I can't even pronounce the words she learns. My English is so weak that I cannot train her or coach her. She demands more information from us. She really wanted to win this. She does a lot of reading. She gained all her knowledge for this on her own. Once I saw that, I needed to see how we could help her go all the way. So the push from her actually demands more time and effort from me. She was really interested in the spelling Bee so I had to look into finding information of how to prepare her. I am a software engineer. I wrote a program for her that pulls information from the dictionary. Last year, we used flashcards, which did not help very much. She was placed 27th. She gained experience but she could have done much better. So this year we changed the pattern of how she studies and she took a lot more tests using the PDF that I generated.
: So are other parents now asking for the software?

Mr Nandipati: (Laughs) Yes, actually I got a lot of requests from other countries like Ghana and China as Scripps has announced that they are going international next year. There are going to be participants from 55 countries. But we need to make the software for iPads and iPhones and make it more fun for the kids to learn.

NDTV: Snigdha admits that at times it was really hard, and not always fun. As a parent how do you ensure that while she has to spend 6 hours a weekday after school, studying spelling she also needs to have some fun like other girls her age?

Mr Nandipati: Any competition that you take up sports or anything you need certain number of hours for practice so spelling is no different from that. Even Sachin Tendulkar would have had to practice many hours to get where he is. Some kids have a dream of winning at an early age but they don't know at that age like they need to put that many hours to achieve their dream. As a parent, you need to keep them reminding about that. Snigdha still goes to birthday parties and enjoys herself but they need to know how to best utilize their time. It is all about time management. Spelling Bee is a side to her but she is really just interested in knowledge gathering. She likes looking through encyclopedias and researching things. Kids in America do a lot of reading. Some kids don't pay attention to the words they only play attention to the story but she is very interested in the words. Snigdha likes watching TV. She watches the Food Network because she wants to get all the French food words, the Gourmet chef words. She looks for different TV shows where she can get knowledge and learn words.

NDTV: Now she is a mini celebrity. How do you ensure that she stays grounded?

Mr Nandipati: My wife takes care on that part very well. She keeps her grounded. She still maintains her Indian culture. She speaks fluent Telegu. Even after winning of spelling bee she chose to wear an Indian dress, a Ghaghara for the celebrations and ballroom party

NDTV: Indian Parents are often accused of pushing their dreams on to their kids?

Mr Nandipati: The parents may expect the kids to live up to their dreams, but you need to find from the kids what they are interested in, rather than what you are interested in. For example my son, he is not much into the spelling bee, but you just need to find what your kids are good at. He is better in sports and music.  Take him to tennis competitions. You should be flexible enough. If you are good at Math you can't force the kid to do math. I am good at math but Snigdha is not interested. She is good at math but not passionate about it like she is about spelling.

NDTV: Snidgha clearly has a talent for this, she thrives on this. Would you encourage other kids who may not have an innate talent for spelling to take this up?

Mr Nandipati: There is nothing wrong trying and he may get interested in the process of doing it. We need to find that out. Rote memorization may work at the school level but not at the national levels. For that you have to have an interest in words, a love for reading.

NDTV: Thank you and congratulations again.


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