Learning to Cut With Scissors


Choosing a Pair of Scissors

When a child is first learning to cut with scissors, he or she is developing his or her fine motor skills. One of the skills he or she must learn is to separate of the two sides of the hand for skilled use of the hand.. This means the child is learning to use the thumb, index and middle fingers together to manipulate objects or tools . He or she must also learn to keep the ring and little fingers loosely tucked into the palm of the hand. This part of the hand plays a crucial role in providing stability for the dexterity fingers. So the best type of scissors to use are the “old fashioned” style of scissors with two loops of the same size.

Later after the child has developed separation of the two sides of the hand, using scissors with an enlarged loop on the bottom is fine. This type of scissors has the child use the ring finger in the bottom loop . This gives the child greater hand strength on the scissors for cutting out heavier materials.

Palmar view of scissors

Positioning of the Body and Holding of the Scissors

  • Scissors should be held with in the top loop, with the middle finger in the bottom loop.  The index finger is placed on the outside to be free to guide the hand around curves
  • Scissors should point away from the body, not parallel to stomach. Also the elbows should be positioned down, not up and out. 
  • Scissors and work must remain below the shoulders.  Scissors and work should be at least 8 to 12 inches from the face.
  • The paper should  be held by the non-dominant hand with the thumb on top.  To physically cue the child to use this position, give the paper to the child held at a position above the child’s shoulder level.  As the hand reaches up, the thumb will naturally move to the top of the paper. The hand holding the paper should do most of the turning of the paper.
Dorsal view of scissors
Cutting Techniques
  • Here is the normal progression of cutting skills: snipping, cutting on a line, cutting simple shapes composed of lines (ie. squares, rectangles, triangles, diamonds), cutting on gentle curves, increasing curves and finally circles.  When starting a new shape, be sure to start out with wide lines, say 1/4", then move to thinner lines.
    • For beginners start with  snipping.  Try having the child cut straws into pieces.  Children love to see the pieces "pop" off and go flying.  For children that are having difficulties with opening and closing scissors, step back to practicing picking up manipulatives with large tweezers first.  Snipping on  recipe cards also works well for beginners. Cutting clay "snakes" into pieces in another fun activty.
    • Cutting shouldn't be introduced until the child is about 4 years of age. Before then, focus on playing with  manipulatives (check fiirst, to make sure your chld isn't tempted to put them in his or her mouth) and using large tweezers or grabbers.  At an early age, a safe and favorite fine motor activity is dropping popcycle sticks into a can with a hole cut in the lid.  Also see:  Fine Motor Activities for Preschoolers  for additional ideas. 
  • Be aware of textures and weights of materials that are used for cutting practice.  When children are just starting scissors use, they will be more successful with thicker papers such as oak tag paper, index cards and construction paper.  After they develop skills in manipulating scissors move to further refinement on increasingly lighter weight materials.
  • Right handers should cut around a shape in a counterclockwise direction to assure them of an unobstructed view of the cutting line.
  • Left handers should cut around in a clockwise direction to assure them of an unobstructed view of the cutting line. 
Stop frequently to rest hands and shake out tight muscles.  Focus on having fun and taking time.
© 2009  Carrie Lippincott, OTR/L