Stage 1 – Scissor skills: learning to snip
The first scissor skill children need to learn is to make snips with their scissors. It is important that children are taught to hold the scissors and the item they are cutting with their thumbs facing the ceiling. We explore additional tips for holding scissors and cutting here in this post – Scissor Skills – Six Tips for Teaching Children How to Use Scissors.
Straws and thin pieces of paper are great for snipping. Once the child learns to make one snip, the paper can be made wider so they learn to make two. Slowly, they will be able to make three, four and five snips in a row. Before they will be ready to cut along a line, the child must master the ability to continually open and close the hand and move the scissors forwards.
If the child does not have enough hand strength or control to open and close scissors, but is showing an interest in cutting, spring loaded loop scissors can be a helpful starting point. These allow them to start practising their scissor skills. I recommend the Peta mini easy-grip® scissors for young children, these are well designed and robust.
If the child has established hand dominance, or if their hand is too big for these scissors, then the 5cm blade easy-grip® scissors are the next step. These scissors are available for both left (green) and right (blue) handers. Make sure you choose the scissors that match child’s dominant hand. If you don’t know the difference between left and right handed scissors we recommend you watch the video in this post.
Stage 2 – Scissor skills: cutting straight lines
The next scissor skill children learn is to cut along straight lines. These are much easier to cut than curved lines as the movement is simple. The child just needs to move their hand forwards and they don’t need to manoeuvre the paper very much.
Initially, children will find thicker lines easier to cut on than thin lines. Make sure these are easy to see on the page. The thickness of the lines can decrease over time.
To be successful with lines, the child must be able to make continuous snips and move their scissor forward. If they are struggling with this, use thin strips of card. Start with snipping. Then slowly increase the width of the card so the child needs to make 2 snips before they reach the end. As they get it, make the card wider until they can make 5-6 snips in a row.
Stage 3 – Scissor skills: changing directions
As their scissor control improves, children learn to cut curved lines and eventually shapes. Make these transitions gradual. Start with gentle curves, this gives the child practice at turning their scissors. Straight lined shapes (e.g. square) are also much easier than curves (e.g. circles).
Initially when the child is cutting corners they might snip the paper off and then come back in and start again. Over time it is important to teach them to turn their scissors and the item they are holding. One mistake I frequently see is children not repositioning the item in their holding hand. Make sure you help them with this.
Usually when they are learning, children will stop and start and move the scissors in and out as they cut more complex shapes. As their scissor control improves, they can continue to cut without having to reposition the scissors. Some children need extra prompts to keep their scissors moving in a continuous motion.
A note on cutting zig zags
Whilst zig zags might initially appear to be an ‘easy shape’ because the lines are straight, they are in fact very difficult. This is because each time the child ‘zigs’ and ‘zags’ they have to make a 90 degree direction change with their scissors. Before they do this, they need to cut slowly so they don’t cut too far in. Coordinating both of these movements is difficult. It requires really good precision and control.
If you take one thing away from this article please please remember that zig-zags are much harder to cut than they initially appear! (The second thing to remember is to make sure you have given the child scissors that match their dominant hand!)