Good Scissor Skills…What Does It Take?

Efficient scissor use is an essential skill needed in both school and life.  Typically during the sweet preschool years, children will use scissors for the first time.  For example, preschoolers may be expected to cut straws and then string them onto a pipe cleaner.  With consistent use, scissor skills will continue to improve.  In primary school, scissors may be used as part of a color, cut, and paste activity.  Students will be presented with worksheets containing images that they will need to color, cut along the borders, and paste in a designated area. At the intermediate level, children will typically be required to cut out text and images and paste them into their notebooks.  Older kids will use scissors during part of more complex activities such as science and art projects.  In general, scissor skills are needed for many tasks, such as clipping coupons, cooking, removing tags from new clothing, crafts, and sewing.  Scissor use is a functional skill needed in both school and life.  

In this post I will cover the prerequisite skills needed to be able to use scissors efficiently.  Scissor use, like most fine motor tasks, is a complex skill requiring many underlying components. It may not seem like it, but children are tapping into many skills when they are using scissors.

Skills Needed For Efficient Scissor Use:

Balance: Being able to sit up unsupported, with good balance requires core strength and control.  This allows for the use of both hands together (generally at the center of the body, or at midline) to cut with scissors.

Strong Shoulders:  The muscles that make up the shoulder girdle must be strong enough to provide stability while the hands are moving to complete the cutting task.    

Muscle Tone:  Muscle tone or tonus is the normal state of balanced tension in the muscles of the body.  Too much muscle tone or tension (hypertonicity) may cause the wrist to flex or bend making the task of cutting difficult.  Too little muscle tone (hypotonicity) may make it difficult to grasp and/or open scissors efficiently.  

Wrist stability:  The stabilizing muscles hold the hands in place while the action muscles do their job.  When cutting, the hands work best when the wrist is held in a neutral position, meaning not flexed (bent) or extended (raised up).

Development of a Preferred Hand and a Helper Hand:  Also known as asymmetrical bilateral coordination, the preferred hand (which will become the dominant hand typically by 5-6 years of age) leads the task while the helper hand assists.  While cutting, the preferred or dominant hand manages the scissors while the other hand stabilizes and rotates the paper.

Motor Planning: Also called praxis, motor planning is being able to carry out the motor steps required to cut.  Once the brain stores the plan, the action becomes automatic meaning the child no longer needs to think about how to do it, he or she can just do it. 

Hand Separation/Functional Grasp:  The ability to use the thumb, index and middle fingers while the other fingers mostly remain still.  A functional grasp is typically obtained by grasping the scissors with the thumb, index and middle fingers.  Ideally, the thumbs of both hands are held in an upright position known as a “thumbs up” grasp. 

Eye-Hand Coordination:  An important team of body parts that need to work together,  controlled hand movements with controlled eye movements.  The brain must process the visual information that it receives to guide the movement of the arm while cutting.  

FInger Opposition Skills:  Being able to open and shut scissors using one hand.  Early on, around 1.5 years old, the child will use both hands to open and shut scissors.  By age two, the child is able to do so using only one hand.

Safety Awareness: Having an understanding that scissors have sharp blades that will not only cut paper, but people too!

Focus/Sustained Visual Attention to Task:  Being able to focus on the task and look at what you’re doing the entire time.

Engagement:  You must be able to engage the child in the task.  

Skills Needed For Efficient Scissor Use At A Glance:

Here is an infographic that summarizes all the underlying skills needed to manage scissors proficiently. 

Skills Needed For Efficient Scissor Use

As you can see, the skill of cutting has a lot of moving parts. When all of the underlying skills are intact, a child will become pretty good at using scissors. He or she will be able to meet classroom expectations as well as use scissors for personal interests such as crafts, science projects, or whatever one wants to do. When a child is using scissors efficiently, you may observe the following behaviors:

  • sitting upright with good balance 
  • working at midline (elbows resting next to the body; both hands held at the middle of the torso)
  • holding the paper and scissors steadily
  • wrists held in a neutral position, meaning not flexed (bent) or extended (raised)
  • holding and rotating the paper using their “helper hand”
  • functional “thumbs up” grasp
  • able to open and close scissors (opposition skills)
  • able to coordinate eye-hand movements to stay on the lines
  • able to make smooth cuts versus choppy cuts (fine motor control)
  • being safe
  • eyes focused on the task
Good Scissor Skills

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I hope that this post provides you with a better understanding of the very complex skill of scissor use. Have a question or comment? Leave a reply in the box below. I’d love to hear from you!

Disclaimer

The Fun Strokes blog is designed for educational and informational use only for teachers, therapists, and parents. It is not intended as medical advice or therapeutic treatment that would be provided in an individualized treatment plan. If you suspect a child has delays, please consult an occupational therapist.

Thanks for stopping by, please come again!

Published by Linda Craig Dennis

Pediatric Occupational Therapist, Author and Creator of Fun Strokes Pre-writing Program

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