You may wonder why a young child needs to learn to cut with scissors. It’s not something we adults do often, so why do our kids need to know how to do it? And besides, most kids don’t look great with super short bangs!
Occupational therapists say that children following an appropriate developmental track should start learning to use scissors at 2 years of age. As with most skills, it’s not just the skill itself that is gained, but the collateral benefits of the activity.
Cutting builds up the tiny muscles in children’s hands which are used for holding onto things. This develops skills like holding a spoon, a toothbrush and pulling pants up, as well as painting and eventually writing with a strong tripod grip (gripping with the thumb and next two fingers).
Cutting builds hand eye coordination for activities that involve precise aim such as throwing and catching a ball, pressing a fork into a chosen food, and zipping a jacket.
Cutting builds bilateral coordination – being able to use both sides of your body (and both hands) at the same time. Bilateral activities such as tying shoes, buttoning a shirt, climbing stairs and riding a bike are actually strengthened through scissor work.
Consider all the little things you do every day that involve using your hands and both sides of your body, and you will understand why cutting is an essential skill for your child to practice, both at home and in school.
Clearly safety is number one. Always supervise cutting activities closely and emphasize these two simple safety rules:
1. Scissors are for cutting things that a parent says are okay to cut, and nothing else.
2. Do not walk with scissors. Always sit or stand still when cutting.
Do some fun activities together that involve similar hand movements to cutting, such as picking up pompoms or cotton balls with tongs and moving them from bowl to bowl, or using tweezers to drop objects into a bucket. Hole punchers are fun too! Spin a top, use clothespins, squirt water from a squirt bottle or squirty toys, use an eyedropper, play with finger puppets, practice tearing lightweight paper. Make it a game!
Buy Fiskar’s child sized, blunt tip scissors. These are hands-down (pun intended!) the best brand. When scissors get dull, the paper will fold more often than cut, so replace them.
If your child is clearly a lefty (many children are unsure until 4 or 5), consider buying left handed Fiskar’s scissors. Don’t buy scissors that claim to be usable in either hand, those have the upper blade on the right, made for righties, just with an ambidextrous hand grip.
How To Help Your Child Cut
Always sit right next to a child with scissors and be patient, cutting is a skill that may take a while to master, and it is a process.
First, help your child hold the scissors properly. Position the wrist so the thumb is turned upwards. Place the thumb in the small hole, the next two fingers in the larger hole. Many occupational therapists advise curling the ring and pinkie fingers into the palm. Some children are resistant to this, but I would try it. Make sure the thumb is up (thumb faces the ceiling). Some children respond to having a sticker or smiley face on the bottom knuckle of the thumb and enjoy having their sticker look at the ceiling. Then simply open and close the scissors without any paper to get the movement down.
Cut firmer materials at first, such as construction paper and manila file folders, as they don’t flop around so much. It’s also fun to cut plastic straws and thread the pieces onto a string afterwards to make a necklace. Playdough is great for beginning scissor work too. Use small sheets of paper or paper cut in 1 inch strips. Encourage short snips, single cuts, like fringes. It’s okay to hold the paper for them as long as they are using just one hand to cut. As their bilateral coordination improves, they will be able to hold and cut at the same time.
After your child has mastered snipping on their own, they can begin cutting on a line. Use a ruler to draw thick, dark lines from one end of the paper to the other. Gradually draw the lines thinner as skills improve. Start with a half sheet (4.25 inch piece of paper), then move to a full sheet of paper 8.5 inches long. Cut straight lines first, then curved and angled (jagged) lines as your child’s skill level increases. This activity can be made more interesting by placing stickers on various points of the lines and having your child aim for and cut through the stickers. You can use the strips they cut to make a crown or collage.
Encourage your child to use their other hand to stabilize the paper. Their non-cutting hand needs to be close to the area that is being cut and move along with the cutting hand. Many children contort their arms to cut on a curve or angle, show them how to move the paper and not their arms, keeping their scissors upright. These coordinated movements may take a while to learn, give reminders and be patient!
When your child has mastered lines, they are ready to cut out shapes. Most children are at least 3.5-4 years old before they get to this point. Teach your child to cut out shapes in a counterclockwise direction so they can see where they are cutting (left handed children cut clockwise). Give them various sized xeroxed circles, triangles and squares to practice on, and color them in or make something fun with the shapes afterwards.
Practice with your child at home, and make it enjoyable. Just practice as long as they are interested, a few minutes can be enough, and many children will want to cut for longer after they master the initial skills. Use stickers as targets and make something fun with the cut paper. Learning to cut with scissors leads to important hand skills and life skills. This is what art should do.