Did you know that scissor skills are an important milestone in childhood development? Learning to cut with scissors helps to build hand strength, develop hand-eye coordination, improve bilateral coordination, and improve attention to tasks. Additionally, while using scissors the child is improving visual motor and visual perceptual skills. Scissor skills development is an important fine motor task that may be incorporated into occupational therapy sessions.
Scissor Skills Development by Age
At what age does a child learn to use scissors? Below, we list cutting skills by age. Generally, development of scissor skills for toddlers and young children are as follows:
2 – 2.5 years old:
- Shows interest in scissors, may hold scissors and manipulate scissors
- May not hold scissors correctly but might begin to open and clothes scissors
2.5 – 3 years old:
- Will begin to make single snips on paper in an uncontrolled fashion
3 years old:
- Begins to cut in a forward motion across a 6-inch line with more control
- May begin to use a helper hand to stabilize paper while their dominant hand is cutting
Cutting Skills for 4 Year Olds
3.5 – 4.5 years old:
- Can cut down a 6-inch line staying within a quarter inch of the line
- May begin to cut curves and circles
4.5-5 years old:
- Can cut out a square and other simple figures
6 years old:
- Cuts complex shapes that include both curved and straight lines
Scissor Cutting Practice and Activities to Improve Scissor Skills
The steps to success when beginning to use scissors include:
- Learning the appropriate developmental scissors grasp pattern to open and close scissors
- Manipulating paper with one hand while actively using scissors with the other in a coordinated fashion
- Visually attending to what you are cutting
- Remaining on a line when cutting
Here are some scissor cutting practices you can use to help your child prepare for and develop building blocks to scissors skills within the home:
1. Tearing Paper
- This scissor skills activity requires the use of both hands working together and encourages the child’s hands to move in opposite directions. This activity is great for increasing grip and intrinsic hand strength (which are the small muscles within the hand) and begins to develop a tripod grasp required for many fine motor skills.
- For scissor cutting practice, you can introduce this activity with an easy manipulative such as tissue paper and move on to more challenging pieces like cardboard to increase the strength demand as your child progresses.
2. Puppet Shows with Mitten or Sock Puppets
- Opening and closing the mouth of the puppets mimics the same motion needed for cutting paper but in a more creative and playful way!
3. Pick Up Items with Tongs or Clothespins
- This activity promotes fine motor strength and coordination. The grasp on tongs or clothespins helps to isolate the thumb, index and middle finger, the same fingers used for cutting scissors while helping to tuck the ring and pinky finger away.
- Start off with an easier manipulative such as cotton balls and progress to harder manipulatives such as beads!
4. Simple Grasp and Release Activities
- Stacking blocks or inserting coins into a coin slot for example helps to increase precision and hand eye coordination required for scissor skills development.
5. Play Doh for Hand Strengthening
- Rolling on the table or between both hands, squishing, pinching, and pulling Play Doh apart are all excellent and fun ways to develop hand strength.
- You can even practice cutting this material to introduce scissors into your child’s fine motor repertoire. Play Doh is a great starting material because it is not flimsy and generally stays in one spot while your child practices with scissors.
Practicing Cutting Skills With Other Materials
Jumping right into using paper with scissors might be challenging for some children. Here is a list of materials that can be used to practice cutting before paper to increase independence and confidence with scissors:
- Cooked noodles
- Drinking straws
- Play Doh
- Tissue paper
- Fabric scraps
- Wrapping paper
When your child is ready to practice with paper, you can try taping the paper to the edge of the table to assist with cutting forward. This will help by decreasing the demand of the helping hand. Another option is to try using thick firm paper to start. When assisting with the grasp on paper and the scissors themselves, a helpful tip is to remind your child to turn their thumbs up to the sky.
These scissor skills activities can be tailored to practice cutting for preschoolers, toddlers, and children.
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About the Author
Chelsea Lucaroni is a pediatric occupational therapist at NAPA Center Boston. She grew up knowing a career with the pediatric population was in her future, and she is thrilled going into work every day promoting independence and incorporating play into treatment sessions. Chelsea enjoys spending her time with friends, being outdoors, and eating lots and lots of sweets!