Tips for Improving Scissor Skills

Cutting with scissors can be a difficult skill for our littles to conquer! Which fingers go in which loops? How fast do I open and close the scissors (motor planning)? How am I supposed to stay on the lines? Last but not least, how do I use two hands at one time (one hand to hold the paper and one hand using scissors)?

There are many steps to consider in order to be successful at cutting. Before transitioning to cutting skills, there are other areas that need to be addressed first. A child will need core and trunk strength. This is important because without strengthening these areas of the body a child would not be able to sit at the table without proper postural alignment to complete cutting. Moving on from core strength, the child will need shoulder stability. We then start to progress to smaller movements, elbow and forearm rotation, wrist stability, and fine motor movements.

It is important for a child to complete cutting with scissors in a position that is appropriate, such as a table that is the correct height. When I am working at different schools, the height of the table varies. Therefore, I adjust the activity as needed. I sometimes switch the chair to be taller or shorter. Sometimes, I even move the child away from the table if it interferes with their ability to cut. Feel free to make adjustments within your environment as needed!

When having a child cut, I always cue them for “thumb up” and “keep arms at side.” These are the two most common mistakes I see: a child cutting with their thumbs facing down and their elbows in the air. Verbal prompting along with tactile cueing typically helps, but, if this continues to be a consistent occurrence, you can place a piece of paper or folder under the child’s arm and tell them “don’t let the paper/folder fall!” This is a great way to help the child keep their arm to their side!

After addressing arm positioning, to prepare for cutting for scissors, it is important to address fingers going in the loops of the scissors to begin cutting. Children should use their thumb in one loop then the index and middle finger in the other loop. In Occupational Therapy, we call this “separation of two sides of the hand.” When fine motor skills aren’t fully developed, children can have a difficult time separating the two sides of the hands. A great way to develop fine motor skills is completing activities that incorporate tweezers and tongs.

Overall, there are many skills that need to be addressed in order to be successful with scissor skills. First, start with the bigger muscles such as trunk and shoulders. Then work your way to elbow/forearm, wrist, and smaller fine motor movements with the fingers.

-Krystan Inman, COTA