Scissor skills stages

Learning to cut with scissors is more complex than it may initially seem.  It requires good postural control, good hand-eye coordination and the ability to use both hands together.  In this post I explore the different stages of learning to cut including:

  • Pre-scissor skills

  • Snipping and lines

  • Complex shapes

  • Worksheets to help

scissor skills father and daughter cutting craft

Scissor skills stages

Learning to cut with scissors is more complex than it may initially seem.  It requires good postural control, good hand-eye coordination and the ability to use both hands together.  In this post I explore the different stages of learning to cut including:

  • Pre-scissor skills

  • Snipping and lines

  • Complex shapes

  • Worksheets to help

Pre-scissor skills

Before they are ready to use scissors, children must have developed basic fine motor skills.  To be successful with cutting, they need to be able to use both hands together and be ready to look at what they are doing.  If a child is not engaging in general fine motor activities, like opening and closing and putting items into containers, it’s likely they are not ready to use scissors yet.

The child also need to have an interest in fine motor activities and cutting.  It is very difficult to teach children to use scissors if they are not looking.  It’s also harder to keep them safe with the scissors.

Before they will be successful with scissors, children need to be able to open and close both hands.  This is the action they need to make with the scissor handles. It is also the movement that helps them to hold and manoeuvre the paper they are cutting.  Activities that can help with fine motor readiness and pre-scissor skills include:

  • Building with Duplo or blocks

  • Squeezing water out of sponges

  • Squeezing triggers on spray bottles

  • Squeezing water out of shampoo bottles (empty mayonnaise bottles work well too)

  • Ripping paper or cardboard

  • Threading

  • Popoids

Levels one and two of the GriffinOT fine motor skills programme outline specific activities and tips which can be used with children who have delays in their fine motor skills.  You can read more about it here.

Children must have established basic fine motor skills before they are expected to hold scissors and cut.  It helps if they are interested in holding scissors and cutting too.

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.

Alternative scissors

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 I 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!)

two boys cutting paper, one is left handed

Scissor skills: getting creative

The great thing about learning to use scissors is that they open up a world of craft! Children can fold paper and cut shapes.  They can use worksheets or cut out their own drawings.  The improvement in their scissor skills opens up a world of possibilities!

At this stage, children should be manoeuvring their scissors and paper together whilst keeping their scissors moving forwards.  They will be able to cut on thinner lines and to cut out smaller shapes.  Their precision will have improved significantly.

Stage 4 – Complex scissor skills like zig-zags and stars

Although they often feature quite early on in scissor worksheets, as mentioned above shapes like zig-zags and stars are actually quite difficult to cut.  This is because they require more complex two-handed coordination to move the paper and the scissors at the corners.  Before you include these, make sure the child is confident with cutting curves and less complex shapes.

Stage 5 – Cutting inside

The final scissor skill children learn is to cut on the inside of the paper.  For example, cutting the eyes out on a mask.  This requires excellent precision and a lot of practise.  Despite this, it is definitely something that children should be encouraged to learn.

A programme to help with scissor skills

To help educators and parents successfully follow these stages, I have put all of my knowledge into my scissor skill programme which is now part of the fine motor skills programme package.  The programme includes activity ideas and worksheets for all stages of scissor skills.  The full programme includes education videos which explain how fine motor and scissor skills develop.  There are also practical videos exploring tips on how to help children who are learning to use scissors.  It’s £25 per person per year for access to all of the content.  This includes all of the scissor skill worksheets, training, fine motor skill activities and training.

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