How can I help my child learn to use scissors?

Scissor skills can be very tricky for little hands! Why is this??? Because it is a skill that requires bilateral integration: the ability to use both sides of your body in a coordinated way. When cutting with scissors, the dominant hand manipulates the scissors, and the non-dominant hand manipulates the object being cut. 

So …How can you help your child learn this skill? 

Our OT often works with kids on bilateral integration skills in the clinic. These skills are important for fine motor skills such as cutting with scissors. But also for life skills such as: doing up a button, cutting with a knife and fork, and tying up shoe-laces. The key is to work on bilateral coordination in a way that is fun for your child. And … this doesn’t require you to only use scissors and paper! Here are some tried and tested fun activities to improve your child’s bilateral coordination:

  • Practice placing beads on a lace or pipe-cleaner. 
  • Work on crafts that include some lacing. 
  • Work on single-snip scissor cutting by cutting up straws. Your child will giggle as the little pieces of straw fly through the air! 
  • Or … if you have a candy-lover, try cutting up a piece of licorice. The reward is to eat the piece you cut off! (This is a favoutie in the OT clinic!) or
  • Play with toys such as our Helping Hands Fine Motor Tool Set or the Trace Ace Scissor Skills Set

There are many different kinds of scissors on the market. Loop scissors are great for beginners as they allow the child to work on the basics of open/close. Spring loaded scissors are also great for beginners as they bounce back open to help progress to multiple snips in a row. Once your child masters these skills, you can move to standard child-safe scissors. 

When choosing what type of paper to use: start with thicker paper for a beginner. Craft foam or poster board is great as it gives more stability, and is easier for the helper hand to hold and move the object being cut. To increase the challenge, progress to construction paper, and then to standard paper. 

When progressing your child through the steps of cutting: Start by working on straight lines, progress to a curved line (cut out a rainbow), then move to simple shapes such as a square (straight lines with 90 degree turns), then triangle (diagonal lines) then circle (full curve requiring more finesse with the helper hand turning the paper.)

OT Tip!
When your child is learning to use scissors, once their fingers have grasped the scissors, make sure they keep their thumb pointed up towards the ceiling as they snip. You can also cue them to keep their elbow close to their body as it is quite common for kids to lift their elbow up in the air when they are learning.