As an occupational therapist, working on scissor skills with kids is one of my favorite goal areas. There are so many ways to get creative with modifications to paper, lines, and scissors. The fine motor activities that work on the muscles and dexterity needed for scissor use are fun, too.
Scissor Skills in Kids
One that I see many young children missing out on is scissors use. Being able to properly use scissors will be important in their school years, but what is most important is how the practice of using scissors can aid in the development of many skills: visual motor integration, bilateral coordination, and fine motor strength just to name a few. You need these skills to do everyday activities like buttoning, handwriting, and many sports and leisure activities.
You’ll want to start with these informative resources on cutting with scissors:
- Scissors Crash Course– This article covers pre-requisite skills, and scissor skill progression from snips to cutting complex shapes.
- Also, be sure to check out this Cutting With Scissors Program designed to make progressive scissor use easy and fun for kids.
HOW CAN I TELL IF MY CHILD NEEDS Help with scissor skills?
- Do they consistently orient their scissors correctly in their hand?
- Can they follow a thick line while cutting?
- Can they turn the paper with their opposite hand while they cut?
- Are they safe using scissors while seated?
- How choppy are their cuts – do they end up with really jagged paper or is it fairly smooth?
- Does the elbow of their cutting hand raise up into the air, and their shoulder shrug?
- Does their mouth open and close with the scissors, or is their tongue sticking out?
- Does their hand hurt after cutting for a short period of time?
If you answered yes to the first four questions, and your kiddo can cut fairly smooth edges with ease, then they are most likely developing well with their scissors skills. If any of the above questions raised concerns, browse below for some therapeutic techniques to improve the development of scissors skills in your child.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR CHILD’S SCISSORS SKILLS
Set up for Success- For the development of any seated skill, make sure that the child is in a chair that they can sit upright in, with both feet on the floor. Having a strong base of support is so important for fine motor development.
Holding the Scissors- Some kids don’t understand that the smaller hole is for their thumb, while the bigger hole is for their fingers. A fun way to remember the orientation of the scissors is to think of the scissors as a crocodile: the blades are the mouth, the thumb hole is their eye, and the finger hole is the jaw.
Orientation of the Scissors While Cutting- An important piece of cutting with scissors that is easy to overlook is the way the scissors are oriented on the hand.
- Even once the fingers and thumb are in the right place, some kids cut with their thumb pointed down. To keep their thumb up, you can use simple cues like “thumbs up!”
- Or, to keep with our crocodile theme, you can remind them that their thumb is the eye of the crocodile, and he has to see where he’s going!
Scissor Skills to Cut on the Line
For kiddos that cannot stay on the line while cutting, practice is key. Use thicker, straight lines for more success, upgrading the task as they demonstrate skill. Eventually, your child will be cutting thin, complex shapes right before your eyes!
How to Promote Smooth Scissor Use (Cutting Smoothly)
Jagged edges after cutting are commonplace for new scissors users. However, if they are still looking pretty choppy after some time of practice, it may be time to think about teaching your child how to cut while keeping the scissors a little more “open”.
Cue them to make less chopping sounds, to move slower if speed is the issue, and to glide like an ice skater. Or, keeping with the crocodile theme if that works for your kids, encourage them to keep the crocodile swimming along, being sneaky quiet under the water.
These tips and tricks to help kids slow down when cutting with scissors can make a big difference on those choppy cutting skills.
Problems with scissor skills
Many times, pediatric OTs run into issues with scissor skills and cutting accuracy that ties back to several similar areas:
- Tired Hands
- Raised Elbows
- Mouth Movements When Cutting with Scissors
If you notice that your child gets fatigued very easily, raises their elbow or shoulder, or opens and closes their mouth while cutting, strengthening exercises may help.
Quick Explanation: their hands get tired if they are not strong enough, and they may start incorporating the rest of the arm muscles (raising the elbow or shoulder) to compensate. Rather than using the intrinsic muscles (muscles within the hand) to manipulate the scissors, they are compensating for weakness by using larger and more proximal muscle groups…muscles that are bigger and stronger and closer to the core of the body, such as the shoulder girdle and biceps to move the scissors. When this occurs, they can compensate for weak hand muscles, but the accuracy of cutting skills lacks because larger muscle groups can not perform refined and precise scissor movements.
Mouth movements when cutting with scissors can be described as overflow movements. The mouth or tongue movements come into play when they have not yet integrated the palmar reflex, which is also a sign that their fine motor skills could benefit from strengthening.
To increase fine motor strength, simply using the scissors more regularly may be enough, or see these other fun ideas to get strong little muscles!
Scissor Skills Activities
Below are fun scissor skills activities that you can use to work on accuracy and precision in using scissors.
Don’t forget the value in building hand strength and fine motor skills! I’m listing hand strengthening activities, too. Fine motor strengthening activities to develop and refine scissor use include:
- Activities using tongs
- Intrinsic hand strength with tongs
- Bunny tongs activity
- Build fine motor skills through play
- Fine Motor precision & refinement with stickers
- Arch development: spherical and cylindrical grasp
- Separation of the sides of the hand
- Motoric separation of the sides of the hand
- Eye hand coordination activity
- Hand strengthening activity with rubber bands
Try these scissor activities to work on opening and closing of the scissors, cutting along lines, and cutting simple to complex shapes:
- Simple Trick to Teach Kids to Hold the Paper when Cutting With Scissors
- Teach kids to slow down and cut on the lines
- The Ultimate Guide to Scissor Skills
- Crepe paper scissor practice
- Re-usable calendar craft
- Cupcake liner scissor craft
- Cupcake liner butterfly craft
- Bunny Tongs Scissor Skills Activity
- Scissor Skills: Activities for Kids
- Icicle Winter Scissor Skills Activity
- Color Sorting Scissor Activity
- Name Building Activity
- Lighthouse Craft
- Scissor Skills gift guide
- Sunflower cupcake liner craft
- Scissor Skills with Attention Challenges
- Creative Scissor Skills Practice Scissor Skills Crash Course
- Improving Scissor Skills with Play Dough
- Cutting Foam Beads
- Using Stickers to Help with Scissor Skills
- Finger-painting Fireworks for Scissor Use
- Cutting with Scissors Program
Looking for tips and tools from pediatric occupational therapists and physical therapists to help with all things scissor skills? The Scissor Skills Book is a comprehensive resource that covers all aspects of development related to cutting with scissors.
If you’re a parent who is reluctant to let your child cut with scissors…
If you’re a teacher who is tired of watching students snip their crafts and worksheets into tiny pieces…
If you’re a therapist looking for creative ways to promote scissor skills in your treatment sessions…
This book is for you!
Written by a team of 10 pediatric physical and occupational therapists with years of experience in the field, The Scissor Skills Book is the ultimate resource for tips, strategies, suggestions, and information to support scissor use by kids.
Click here for your copy of The Scissor Skills Book!
Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to email@example.com.