“Don’t touch scissors! They are VERY dangerous!” is often a phrase heard in many households. The fear of our children picking up scissors is definitely something that is quite validated, considering all of the things that could “go wrong” with this situation. Scissor use is quite complex and comes with a lot of safety precautions which young children may not be able to monitor themselves.
However, incorporating the underlying skills needed to properly use scissors into daily play can make a huge difference in developing their skill and readiness. The developmental progression of scissor skills is not a concrete timeline since all children will develop differently but in general, here are some of the milestones that would be “expected” of a typically developing child.
25-26 months: begins snipping with scissors in 1 place (no forward motion)
37-38 months: begins to cut piece of paper in half
41-42 months – begins to cut 5” line
49-50 months – begins to cut a 3” circle
53-54 months – begins to cut out a 3” square
While actual scissor use is important for practice, the underlying skills that are the prerequisite to using them effectively are just, if not more important! Here are some fun ways that you can engage young children in activities that develop scissor skills.
Grasp and Release
This skill begins in infanthood as a baby begins to grasp and release objects. While it seems like a simple task, each time the child opens and closes their hands to manipulate the object, they are building strength and coordination in the muscles within the hands. With babies, handing them objects and having them drop them or hand them back to you is a fun way to engage them in grasp and release. With toddlers, we can start to utilize simple tools such as tongs, tweezers, clothespins, and squeeze bottles. Some toddler favorites include picking up pom poms with tweezers and placing them in containers, squeezing empty sauce bottles to blow pom poms along a path, and cooking up a nice pretend play meal using tongs are all fun ways to incorporate the hand muscles into playtime.
Two Hand Coordination
As children get older, scissor skills will require them to hold the paper with one hand and rotate it while the other hand will manipulate the scissor in order to cut. All of this takes years of practice strengthening the use of both sides of the body, including the two hands together. Try giving babies some gift tissue paper and they will have tons of fun crinkling it in their hands. Help them bring both of their hands together to touch the paper and they will surely start to learn to do it on their own in no time!
For toddlers, crafting with gift tissue paper is a fun, simple project that involved a ton of two-handed coordination. Prompt them to use both hands to slowly tear or rip the tissue paper. Stickers are another fun one for children of all ages. For babies, giving them a large (think shipping labels) sticker in their hand to play with is great entertainment – especially during diaper changes! Giving toddlers stickers (cut large sticker sheets so that they are only holding a sheet of 1-3 stickers at a time) to peel is a great way to get them to coordinate their two hands together. If it is tricky for them to peel the sticker off, try large dot stickers (pricing stickers – can be found in packing sections), or peeling all of the “backing” paper off so that the sticker is more easily accessible.
Hand & Finger Strength
When we open & close scissors, we are using a lot of hand and finger strength. For babies, crawling is a great way to build this strength and coordination! Let those crawlers explore all over and watch as they build strength in their hands and fingers. For toddlers, spray bottles are a great way to include them in activities such as gardening. So many toddlers seek independence and a spray bottle allows them to water the plants as they build strength and coordination. Other simple activities that can be incorporated into play time include play doh, putty, tweezers, eyedroppers, and squeezy stress balls.
While on the surface, cutting seems like a fine motor task, when you breakdown the activity, there is a ton of visual skills involved. Cutting requires the ability to sync the movements of the eye, with the motions of the hands and fingers. Playing games regularly that stimulate the visual system to utilize all of its range of motion will help your children build up the skills needed for a coordinated task such as cutting. Eye-spy games, hidden pictures, following targets with eyes such as flashlight tag (hold a flashlight and slowly move the light in a dark room, have your kiddo hold a flashlight as well and see if they have “tag” your light and move along with it), ball games, as well as marble towers are all fun ways to incorporate visual skills into playtime.
These are some of the many ways you can incorporate underlying skill development into daily play! Here are some additional tips and tricks on ways you can start to incorporate actual skills into your playtime:
- When introducing scissors, it can be helpful to use “spring loaded” scissors. The spring will help reduce the level of strength needed to successfully cut an object, leading to less frustration with the task. Help them by holding the object being cut so that they can focus solely on the skill aspect of utilizing the scissors and cut fun items such as straws, play doh, cardstock and tissue paper!
- When helping them learn how to position their fingers inside the scissors, it can be helpful to put a sticker or draw a small happy face onto the small hole where the thumb goes and remind them to always put their “thumb up!”.
Lina Awshee, COTA/L, OVT, is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant with a background as a Pediatric Vision Therapist. Currently, Lina is practicing in the school systems where she works with students of all ages. When she isn’t working, Lina enjoys sharing purposeful ways to include skill development into daily playtime. You can find fun suggestions by following her on Instagram.