12 Ways To Improve Scissor Skills

Scissor skills are essential in both school and life. Solid scissor skills will help children as they learn and play. The maturation of scissor skills requires lots of practice over time. As with all fine motor skills, there is a developmental progression to acquiring scissor skills. Check out my post Scissor Skill Development...What To Expect to read more about this. Some children have trouble with learning how to use scissors, and there can be many reasons why. Using scissors efficiently is a very complex skill that requires many prerequisites. To read more about this check out my post Good Scissor Skills…What Does It Take?  In this post, I will focus on how to help kids who struggle with learning how to use scissors. Here are 12 strategies that can help!

#1 Make Sure The Child Has The Prerequisite Skills

Engage the child in activities that will build the underlying skills needed for scissor use.  Here are some activities that get little hands ready for cutting with scissors:

  • string beads onto a pipe cleaner or string
  • lacing activities
  • tear paper
  • crumble paper; make it a game by tossing the balls into a basket.
  • play “Rock, Paper, Scissors” 
  • use plastic safety scissors to cut play dough, modeling clay
  • use tools like tongs and tweezers to pick up small objects
  • have the child place a rubber band around his or her fingers and practice opening and closing his or her fingers 
  • play with hand puppets or make brown paper bag puppets to allow the child to work on opposition skills while opening and closing the puppet’s mouth 
9 Activities To Get Little Hands Ready For Scissor Use

Here’s a handy infographic that outlines activities that can be done to prepare kids for learning how to use scissors. This is an excellent resource to share with teachers, parents, and caregivers of young children. Click the button below to get this free PDF emailed to your inbox today!

#2 Be Sure To Use The Correct Type of Scissors

Be sure to equip children with the correct type of scissors. There are two types of scissors, left-handed scissors, and right-handed scissors. If the child is using right-handed scissors to cut using their left hand, the blade may obstruct their view of the line while they are cutting. Children who are left-handed but have been ill-equipped with right-handed scissors may have trouble learning to use scissors efficiently. You may notice these kiddos holding their heads in awkward positions as they try to see around the scissor blade.  

Scissors: Lefties vs. Righties

#3 Set Up For Success

Make sure the child is set up for success by ensuring that he or she is sitting down with both feet supported on the floor or foot rest. Sitting with both feet planted on the floor provides a stable base to work from. This will help stabilize the core allowing the child to focus their energy on what their hands are doing. It will also improve body awareness or a better sense of where their body is moving in space. When the child is sitting upright, with both feet planted on the floor, he or she is ready to cut.

#4 Follow Developmental Guidelines

Be sure to follow the developmental progression of skills indicated in my post Scissor Skill Development…What To Expect. Start with snipping, followed by cutting across paper, then lines, then simple shapes. Once the child can cut out simple shapes well, he or she may advance to complex shapes.  

#5 Thumbs Up!  Ensure Correct Grasp and Positioning 

Look at the way the child is holding the scissors. The thumb should be held up, pointing toward the ceiling, like a hitchhiker. For the most efficient approach, encourage a thumbs-up grasp on both hands while cutting with scissors. Most scissors have a little hole and a larger hole. Teach children that scissors are right side up when the thumb is in the little hole.

Ways to facilitate a thumbs-up grasp:  

How to Facilitate
A Thumbs Up Grasp
Thumbs Up Hack
  • Tape the paper to the edge of the table. Have the child sit on the floor in front of the table. Have the child snip along the border of the paper or cut up towards the top of the paper. If the child is ready, draw lines on the paper (see image/video above).  
  • Place stickers on the child’s thumbs. Explain that they must be able to see the stickers while cutting. If they are unable to see the stickers, they must move their hand so that they can. 
  • Paste googly eyes and a pom pom nose on the scissors so kids can easily see and know that the scissors are right side up (see video below).
Thumbs Up Hack

#6 Start With Rigid Paper Because It’s Easier To Manage

Use cardstock or stiff paper that holds its place by nature. It’s easier to cut paper that isn’t flimsy or floppy. Some suggestions are:

  • paint color samples (the natural lines in between the colors are great for beginners)
  • old or discarded playing cards
  • magazine ad inserts
  • old or discarded folders

As the child’s skills progress, introduce paper that is less firm, such as construction paper. Keep in mind, that the flimsier the paper the more skill is required to cut it without tearing the paper.

#7 Widen The Lines or Borders

Use a sharpie to bold or thicken the lines around the borders of the design. Or use a highlighter to make the borders of the design stand out. This will help with visual attention and focus on the line.

#8 Make it Smaller

Present the child with smaller pieces that are easier to manipulate. For example, quarter an 8.5″ x 11” piece of paper. Draw lines or simple shapes for the child to cut on each piece. 

#9 Help Them Get There!

For kids that struggle with finding their way to the shape or design, highlight a path to get them there. You can simply draw a line from the edge of the paper to the design. Here is an example taken from my scissor skills workbook The Ultimate Guide To Scissor Skill Development & A to Z Scissor Skills Workbook which is available for purchase at the Fun Strokes Store. 

A to Z Scissor Skills: The Ultimate Guide To Scissor Skill Development & Workbook

#10 Use Adapted Scissors

There are many different types of adapted scissors designed to meet the specific needs of students. Here are some examples of the types I like to use:  

SPRING SCISSORS

LOOP SCISSORS

PUSH DOWN TABLETOP SCISSORS

TABLETOP SCISSORS (MOUNTED)

MAILING SUPPLIES CUTTER/GIFT WRAP CUTTER

Types of Adaptive Scissors
Spring Scissors From Dollar Tree
mailing supplies cutter

A great way to provide access and increase the level of participation for kids who need a lot of assistance with cutting is by using a mailing supplies cutter. This is a safe way to provide hands-on engagement in scissor activities. This adaptation is ideal for those kiddos who have significant motor limitations and therefore need a higher level of assistance or adaptations, for example, children with cerebral palsy. If necessary, you can also place the mailing supplies cutter in a universal cuff to enable the child to hold it.

Adapting A Cutting Task Using a Mailing Supplies Cutter

Classroom Teachers:  Consult with your school’s OT for a recommendation regarding which type of scissors may benefit your student or students.

#11 Ensure Correct Positioning Of The Wrist, Elbow, and Shoulder. 

Is the child using their whole arm versus their hands? Place a folder, magazine, or bean bag under the arm of the dominant hand while cutting to facilitate correct positioning (see video below).

Positioning Hack

#12 Look For Physical Clues

Behaviors that indicate immature development of the shoulder and elbow when cutting with scissors:

  • holding and using scissors with the wrong side up
  • shoulders shrugged
  • raising the elbow away from the body instead of relaxed next to the body
  • sticking tongue out while cutting
  • cutting to the side instead of forward while holding the paper at their midline

Shoulders shrugged, raised elbows, and flexed wrists are all compensatory movements that children make when they lack adequate strength and stability in their upper body (core and/or shoulder girdle). The wrist should be held in a neutral position (not bent or extended up) with the elbow resting next to the body. The shoulder should be in a natural position, not shrugged or elevated. Observing a child stick out their tongue while cutting or writing may be an indicator that the palmar reflex isn’t fully integrated. Consult with an occupational therapist if you have concerns about your student’s or child’s scissor skills.

Whew! There ya go, 12 ways to improve scissor skills! But before I finish, there’s one more issue I’d like to tackle.

BONUS TIP: Some kids always seem to manage to lose some of what they’ve cut out during the cutting process. So when they are attempting to assemble the craft or worksheet, something is missing! This may be due to visual perceptual challenges and/or difficulties with executive functioning skills and organization. This strategy works great for both scenarios. A quick fix is to place two small baskets on their work surface. Labeled one “keep” and the other “trash”. As the child is working have them place the pieces they need in the “keep” basket. The materials that should be discarded go in the “trash” basket. Here’s a video that illustrates how to modify a cutting task including use of a “keep” and “trash” basket.

How To Modify a Cutting Activity

Do you have a go-to strategy that you’d like to share? Have a question or comment? Please leave a reply in the box below.

Thanks for stopping by, please come again!
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.

Published by Linda Craig Dennis

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

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