Snipping Paper

snipping paper

For young children, snipping paper with scissors is a challenge! Today we are covering this first stage of using scissors so you can teach preschoolers, kindergarteners, and older kids how to snip paper, even if they have never touched a pair of scissors before.

Using scissors is a part of every classroom and many times we see kids come into the school environment having never used scissors. But did you know that according to the Peabody Developmental Motor Scales, snipping paper with scissors should be mastered around 25-26 months?  (Read about other fine motor milestones.)

Interestingly, when researching articles for this blog, I discovered a plethora of different information.  Occupational Therapists and their blogs indicate cutting around two years of age.  “Mama” blogs are all over the place from age 3-8 to start giving kids scissors. 

When should kids begin to snip paper? We’ll get into that below. But first, let’s define what it means to “snip paper”.

Snipping paper

What is snipping paper?

Snipping paper is the first stage of cutting with scissors and refers to the single open and shut motion of cutting into a page. When children learn to cut with scissors, they will open the scissors away from the paper and cut into the paper. There is no forward progression of the scissors across the page. 

You’ll see in this resource on scissor skills activities how this progression occurs.

When young children first snip paper with a pair of scissors, they may snip into the paper along the length of the paper. 

Snipping paper is an important stage of learning motor control and bilateral coordination skills used to cut more complex shapes. It’s a fine motor activity all kids must learn at one point.

Snipping is seen when paper strips are cut into squares or the edge of a piece of paper is snipped into a fringe. 

To progress beyond snipping, the scissor user needs to progress to more refined fine motor skills, including graded scissor use so they can open and close the scissors while using a forward motion across the page. Additionally, there is a graded “hold” on the scissors as the hand closes but does not completely close the scissor blades. This concept is covered in our resource on difficulty cutting with scissors.

Whether snipping or progressing from this stage, practice is the essential piece of the puzzle. Let’s go over a few cutting tricks to support this development.

When Snipping Paper isn’t introduced at home

The issue with this is that children arrive at kindergarten and are handed a pair of scissors. IF the educator has time in their busy curriculum to teach their students how to use scissors, they have many skills to cover:

  • How to properly hold the scissors with a safe and efficient grip
  • How to grasp the paper with the assisting hand
  • How to hold  the paper while moving the scissors around the shape
  • How to open the scissors to snip paper without pushing through the page
  • How to then grade the opening and shutting of the scissors to stop at a stopping point
  • How to turn the page while managing proper upper body positioning
  • How to cut along lines of various shapes,
  • and all of this WHILE using safe use of the scissors

To complete this list in the busy classroom, WITH a group of 30 new scissor users…there MIGHT be enough time left in the school year to finish out the remainder of the school year to use those snipping skills to actually cut out crafts, spelling worksheets, and multi-step activities. 

Therein is the problem that we typically see: the children without exposure to scissor use at home have trouble with the visual and motor aspect of using scissors once they get to the classroom setting.

Over the years when assessing young children, at least two thirds fail this task due to “lack of exposure” or never handling scissors.  The reasons I am given are often a nervous parent/caregiver/teacher/grandparent. 

This can be expected given the fact that you are about to hand a sharp object to a toddler, however, if a child never experiences a task, they will never master it.

I am in no way advocating giving a two year old unsupervised access to large scissors.  Or a three year old for that matter. What I AM advocating or suggesting, is working with toddlers 20-24 months on beginning scissor skills including snipping paper. 

When are kids ready for Snipping Paper

To give you an idea of the timeline for scissor skills: 

  • 25-26 months snipping with scissors
  • 37-38 months cutting paper in half (not on any line)
  • 41-42 months cutting a five inch line within half inch of a straight line
  • 49-50 months cutting a circle within ¼ inch of the curved lines (first of the simple shapes)
  • 53-54 months cutting a square within ¼ inch of the lines, including around the corners (the second of the simple shapes)

After this a child would move toward more complex shapes, smaller shapes, thinner lines, with increased accuracy.

As you can see, there is a span of 11-12 months between snipping with scissors and cutting across a piece of paper in a straight line.  This is a considerable amount of time to practice and work on fine motor development including scissor skills.

If you, or the caregiver are timid about offering scissors for cutting practice, there are several different scissor options from blunt playdough scissors, to scissors that only cut paper, to tiny toddler scissors that can be used before handing over “real” scissors.  

Supervision when snipping paper

As with any activity, supervision is the key. As a seasoned occupational therapist, I myself have developed ninja reflexes when working with young children.  I can thwart danger in a microsecond. This is the type of supervision to develop with a two year old.  

Another note on supervision.  Once showing this child how to use scissors, be sure to put ALL scissors out of reach of your curious toddler. 

I can not tell you the number of times I have had an irate caregiver call me upset that I taught their toddler to cut with scissors, only to find they snipped the dog, their own hair, all the books, the couch, and whatever was not nailed down.  

As with everything else hazardous, if you do not trust your child to follow instructions, remove them out of harm’s way.

How to Teach Kids scissor Snipping

On to the fun stuff! Here are some tips to teach kids how to use scissors in snipping paper. This is the first step of cutting with scissors and often time the most challenging aspect for parents.

  1. Start with exploration of scissors. Let the child try and figure out what these do first.  Do they touch the paper with them?  Open and close their pair? Hold them with two hands? 
  2. Grasp the scissors. Move on to teaching the child how to correctly hold their pair of scissors with an appropriate grip. Start with this resource on how to hold scissors. The OT Toolbox has several great resources for scissor skills and selecting types of scissors:

Correct scissor positioning will include grasping the handles in a specific way. The thumb in the small hole and the third, fourth, and maybe fifth fingers in the larger loop.  Pointer finger stays out of the scissors.  It is there to “lead the way”.

The supporting hand will hold the paper or whatever object the child is cutting with their thumb upward.  Remember “thumbs up”,  for helper hand.  It will take a lot of practice for your youngest learners to master this position, so start early.

3. Practice with scissors. Practice building the intrinsic hand muscles to prepare for cutting skills by using tongs, picking up tiny objects, working on dressing and fasteners, playing with putty and dough, fine motor exploration, or doing puzzles. Try this cutting with scissors program.

Just kidding, that wasn’t all that much fun.  That was the Pre-Fun. The following snipping activities can be used by pediatric occupational therapists to work on functional task of cutting with scissors.

cutting activities for preschoolers

Snipping paper is often a huge accomplishment in the preschool years. Work on scissor skills development with these snipping activities.

These activities can be an extra challenge that supports development of bilateral coordination and eye-hand coordination, leading to skill development. 

Beginner snipping activities

This stage involves practice when cutting different objects

  • Snipping items into thousands of tiny pieces seems far more motivating than cutting snips into a single piece of paper
  • Play Dough (or other homemade dough) is a good start with blunt scissors.  The dough is easier to grab than a flimsy piece of paper.  
  • Make a play dough snake, sausages or worms of dough and encourage snipping through it.
  • Use these toys to support scissor skills
  • Cut junk mail
  • Set out a tray of index cards. Cut a fringe around the edge of the cards
  • Work on placement and positioning of the elbows.
  • Place stickers on the edge of a piece of paper. Snip beside the stickers but not over them.
  • Tear paper into pieces to work on hand strength and wrist stability needed to snip with scissors.
  • Use a marker to create lines along a paper strip. Cut along the marker lines to create small pieces of paper
  • Straws provide another option for beginning snipping as they are easy to hold
  • Snipping note cards into shreds is handy
  • Snipping through strips of cardstock to create confetti, very motivating and fun
  • This (Amazon affiliate link) PlayDough BarberShop toy is excellent motivator for anyone working on scissor skills 
  • Cutting real food such as french fries, pizza, soft pretzels, pancakes makes the activity more relevant for a young learner

Second stage snipping

This stage of snipping with scissors will involve lighter weight paper and objects for cutting. These are more flimsy but sometimes easier to cut for a learner with weak hands

  • Snipping through magazines (here is where you have to be careful of curious toddlers who will cut through all of your favorite magazines and books). Supervise, supervise.
  • Snipping construction paper or regular weight color paper
  • Opening packages by snipping with scissors
  • Creating crafts and collages by gluing little pieces of objects onto paper. Drippy glue is a great way to add a sensory experience to this activity
  • Snip stiff ribbon
  • Snip yarn
  • Cut paper towel rolls at the edge. Add a bit of fun by drawing a face on the paper towel roll and cut down the length to make hair
  • Snipping worksheets are available online everywhere, including the Scissor Skills Home program which covers all stages of scissor use.
  • Try cutting green strips of paper to make grass fringe or a hula skirt
  • Cutting coupons is functional and good practice
  • The Scissor Skills Printable Pack offers printable tools for snipping skills and beyond

A note about Scissors: 

There are many types of scissors that can be used with different needs and using a different type may support development of snipping skills depending on the skill and need being targeted.

  • Small toddler scissors are just right for tiny hands. 
  • Self opening or loop scissors are another way to make cutting easier for those learning to cut, or lacking the intrinsic hand muscles to open and close scissors.  
  • Did you know left handed people cut in a clockwise direction while their right handed friends cut counter-clockwise?  This allows the helper hand to support the paper adequately while cutting.
  • See this article on developing scissor skills grasp.

For more cut, paste and color activities, check out this Animal Alphabet workbook!

Keep watching the OT Toolbox for upcoming cutting PDF and creative worksheets, cut and paste pages, and themed lesson plans.

Remember to supervise your young learners with scissors.  I don’t want any calls about who now has a new haircut or owes the library $534.00 because of chopped up books!

The Scissor Skills Book breaks the functional skill of cutting with scissors into several developmental areas including: developmental progression of scissor use, fine motor skill involvement, gross motor development, sensory considerations and -visual perceptual skills

Each section of The Scissor Skills Book includes strategies and tips to improve these underlying areas:

  • Help for kids who struggle with cutting accurately
  • Creative tips to keep things interesting for kids who lose interest easily
  • Quick, practical strategies that can be put into action today!
  • Ideas for kids who cut too fast or too slow
  • Support for kids who can’t grasp scissors efficiently
  • Strategies for right-handed and left-handed children
Victoria Wood

Victoria Wood, OTR/L has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.