Teaching Preschoolers to Use Scissors

Little hands can develop fine motor skills by learning the proper way to cut paper.
Activity Tips: Mia Using Scissors
Activity Tips: Mia Using Scissors
learning to cut with scissors

Robyn Lehr

Cutting with scissors requires the skill of hand separation, which is the ability to use the thumb, index, and middle fingers separately from the pinkie and ring fingers. This can be challenging for a youngster with small hands. Although many 3- or 4-year-olds have the skills needed to snip and cut, scissor skills are not fully developed until around age 6. If your preschooler is beginning to show an interest in using scissors, start exercising her fine motor skills by following these strategies.

Select Good Scissors. Scissors come in a variety of sizes, so search for a pair that fits your child's hand. For an inexperienced cutter, select scissors with a blunt point, and give them a trial run to make sure the blades are sharp enough for cutting. Dull scissors can fold the paper instead of cutting it.

Left-handed children should always use left-handed scissors. The upper blades on true left-handed scissors are on the left side so that children can see the cutting line. Beware of scissors that are supposedly ambidextrous; although these can easily be held with the left or right hand, the upper blade is still on the right side, which makes it difficult for lefties to see the cutting line.

Children with special needs, hand weakness, or coordination problems may need special or adaptive scissors to start, though many are able to progress to regular scissors over time. There are various types of adaptive scissors that work well for children with physical limitations. One is spring scissors, which automatically spring open after being squeezed closed. These are useful for a child with limited strength or coordination. Mounted tabletop scissors are suitable for children with one functional hand. "A pair of very small Benbow Learning Scissors, designed by an occupational therapist, can also make correct positioning easier," says Barbara A. Smith, M.S., an occupational therapist and author of From Rattles to Writing: A Parent's Guide to Hand Skills.

Blunt-tipped Fiskar scissors are preferred by schoolteachers. "The reason I have come to love the Fiskar brand is that it works," says Carol Welch, a kindergarten teacher with 23 years experience. "As parents we often think 'safety scissors' are the best option for beginners, but all too often these scissors have dull blades, which makes it harder to cut. Children who try are often unsuccessful and they become discouraged or give up. Fiskar scissors actually cut the paper successfully in a short amount of time," she says.

Stress Scissor Safety. Scissor safety is critical and should always be emphasized at the beginning of each cutting activity. Welch reveals her two "golden scissors safety rules" for her kindergarten class.

  1. Scissors are only for cutting paper. Nothing else! (This includes shirts, crayons, fingers, hair, and lips.) If a child feels the need to cut something other than paper, he loses the privilege of having scissors until he is ready for another chance. If the problem happens again, the scissors are taken away.
  2. Avoid walking with scissors. Discourage children from walking around the classroom while holding scissors. On the rare occasion that they must do so, the students know the proper way to hold them is with the blades closed, gripping the blade end in the hand, forming a fist around the blades, and leaving the handles exposed. The scissors should be held close to one's side when walking. By following this rule, there is no risk of children walking around while opening and closing the blades.

Work on Fine Motor Skills First. Before teaching your child to use scissors, have him participate in some fun activities that will strengthen his hand and finger muscles and improve bilateral coordination. Tong activities are an entertaining option. Have your child use kitchen tongs to stack small blocks or to move cotton balls from one container to another. Or jump-start his fine motor skills with these activities:

  • Tear paper into small pieces to improve the ability to use both hands in a coordinated manner.
  • Spin a top to exercise the muscles in the thumb, index, and middle finger.
  • Punch holes on index cards with a handheld puncher to strengthen the hand muscles and improve bilateral skills.
  • Squeeze water out of squirt-toys in the bathtub so hand muscles get a workout.
  • Use an eye dropper filled with watercolor paints to challenge fine motor skill.
  • Finger puppet play is entertaining and addresses finger isolation and dexterity.
  • Place clothespins or kitchen clips on the edge of a paper plate to strengthen small hand and finger muscles and encourage bilateral skills.

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