Book Handling Skills

Baby chew book

No one is born knowing about books, how to use them, or what they are used for. It doesn’t matter how often you are read to before you are born, or how many generations of book lovers you have in your family, everyone is born clueless when it comes to books.

When you were first born you were mostly content to snuggle in the arms of your parents and other family members. Hands-on practice with books, beyond grabbing, didn’t start until you were closer to 5 months old. By the way, that early grab was actually a reflex called the palmar grasp; you don’t get credit for that.

You likely started with board books, cloth books, and vinyl books as they were much easier and safer for you to handle than hardcover and paperback books. And I do mean safer for both you and your family’s library.

At first, you probably grabbed the books and put them in your mouth the same way you did with everything else that was grab-able and mouth-able. Don’t be embarrassed, this was a normal part of exploration and it was normal—this phase lasted at least a few months.

Opening a book was not so obvious. Maybe you stumbled across that possibility by accident, or more likely you learned by watching when family members shared books with you. Opening a cloth or vinyl book was easy, but board books took more practice.

The soft pages of cloth and vinyl books were easy to push and pull to unlock their secrets. Board books were harder to work, but thankfully they had built-in technology to help. Not only were the pages more stiff and easier to grab than paper pages, but whenever you opened a board book, a page would rise up so that you could bat it back and forth. You could do that for several months before you had the coordination to grasp a page between your thumb and forefinger.

Books were tricky! Not only did they have insides and outsides, but they could be upside-down and backwards, or both! When you noticed that the pictures in a book could be upside down, your first instinct was to turn your head upside down. It probably wasn’t until closer to your first birthday that you discovered the book could be turned right side up to achieve the same effect.

Months of exploring books at your own pace and in your own way passed by much like a training montage in a movie: opening and closing books, stacking books up and knocking them down, crying, napping, turning pages back and forth, over and over and over…

And then one day you brought your favourite book to your mom or your dad, you settled down into their lap, you opened up your book, and turned the pages of the book all on your own, pointing at the pictures along the way.

If you would like to learn more about babies and books, visit the Centre for Family Literacy website www.famlit.ca. You will find printable tip sheets on the Resources for Parents page, and if you live in Edmonton, Canada, you can even find a fun program to join.

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