While thinking of teaching your young kids to use scissors may sound daunting and frankly a little bit scary, there are ways to make it easier on yourself and your kids. There are lots of great ways to encourage the skill of using scissors that you can try at home.
Why are scissor skills important for preschoolers?
While using scissors to cut paper may seem simple to most adults, there are multiple development benefits for kids. Scissors are easy for kids to use while preparing them for other activities in preschool and kindergarten.
Scissors develop hand and wrist muscles
Using scissors is often the first time preschoolers use the small muscles of their fingers and hands this purposefully and this often. Developing these small muscles is essential to using them in everyday activities as they get older, similar to an adult exercising a weak muscle to make it stronger.
Along with strengthening these muscles, using scissors for cutting activities helps build coordination. Adults may not think twice about the motion needed to use scissors, but for young kids bringing your fingers to your thumb is not always easy. Coordinating the muscles for this motion has to be learned through repeated practice. All of these smaller pieces go into their growing fine motor development.
Scissors help with fine motor skills
Using scissors is one of the best (and easiest!) activities to develop the fine motor control needed down the road for writing, among other skills. As they get more and more used to using the scissors, you can observe the improvement in fine motor control along with some serious concentration to master this skill. Activities that focus on fine motor skills tend to be frustrating for small children, but the advantage of cutting activities with scissors is that children love it! They may still find it frustrating at times, but you’ll notice them coming back again and again for more.
Using scissors encourages critical thinking
Another awesome benefit of using scissors is teaching kids cause and effect. This is a prime age for developing and understanding cause and effect in everyday life for kids. While cutting with scissors they can physically see one object become two objects because of an action they performed. Again this sounds simple to adults but truly has a huge learning effect on young kids.
Lastly, cutting activities are the beginning of teaching kids to make things. After they master basic scissor use, they can start putting the different pieces together. They can make different shapes with the scissors or combine their cut up pieces to make new pictures.
Before starting with scissors
Before we get into the how-tos and skills of actually cutting, the first (and one of the most important) steps is to discuss safety. The same way we are discussing safety here, you should discuss it with your kids before and continually during cutting activities. The easiest way to avoid accidents is to never leave scissors out. Even with 4-5 year olds who know how to use scissors well, it’s always best practice to put them after while not in use. Save yourself the headache (and the cut hair/toys/fingers).
The next biggest safety concern is teaching your kids that scissors are sharp and can cut them or others around them. Even the duller metal scissors made for preschoolers have the ability to cut through skin. Additionally, stress that scissors are only to be used while sitting, not walking or running, and only to be used with a parent supervising. Never leave them unattended with scissors of any kind!
When to start with scissors
Most kids can start using scissors to cut between two and three years old. Typically by two and a half, kids understand the concept of using scissors and have seen them being used before. But that doesn’t mean they possess the skills and strength to use the scissors themselves. Don’t be surprised if they ask you to try scissors and can’t cut anything or even get their hands around the scissors handles to close them without help.
How to start using scissors
If your child has never used scissors or is still pretty little (think 2-3 years old) then the best way to start is to cut play dough with the dull plastic scissors. Play dough is so soft that cutting even with very dull scissors is so easy. Kids may still get frustrated with trying to close the scissors, so they may need assistance. Try modeling how to use scissors with two hands first as using one hand is usually too hard for small kids at first. You can also direct their hands while they hold the scissors. After helping at the beginning, let them explore and struggle through it on their own a few times.
After Play Doh, you can try moving them to cutting thin paper such as regular printer paper with metal scissors. First, we recommend printer paper because the thickness of construction paper can make cutting too difficult for beginners. Second, we recommend using the kids metal scissors (like these) instead of the plastic scissors. The plastic scissors making cutting even thin paper challenging which tends to frustrate kids more than help them learn.
As a beginner using scissors, your child will start by using both hands to cut. One hand takes more hand strength and coordination than most kids have at this age. And they may use two hands for a while which is normal. Encourage practicing with both hands as long as they still show interest. An adult will have to hold the paper for them.
Practice, practice, practice
During the first few months of starting, kids can get easily frustrated learning a new skill like this. When you have the time to supervise and assist them, bring out the scissors and scraps of paper to try. If they don’t have any interest, don’t worry- it will come! If they have no interest, get too frustrated, or want to stop quickly after starting, you don’t want to force it. Forcing scissor use may make them not want to come back to it.
Think of how frustrating learning a new skill is for adults. Kids get frustrated even easier and may not know how to voice those feelings to you. Our best advice is keep offering it, and if they do show interest, just start with a little at a time. Try combining it with an activity they already like to do such as coloring.
The most helpful thing you can do at this stage is just KEEP PRACTICING!
After mastering the two handed cut, kids can move on to using scissors with one hand. This usually happens around three to three and a half and after continued practice. By this age, they are usually just physically bigger and stronger with better use of their hand muscles and more coordination. Again, if your three year old still uses two hands, don’t worry and don’t force it. Keep modeling with one hand and offering to assist them.
Once they want to start using one hand, the best way to help develop this skill is to let them cut snippets. This is as simple as it sounds. Let them cut any paper over and over again into tiny pieces. You will be shocked by how much kids love to do this and how long it will keep them occupied. We keep a pile of scrap paper on hand just for this purpose. As they practice cutting this way, observe and correct their grip as they go.
Cutting activities for preschool
After mastering cutting snippets, try changing up the cutting activities. You can give them different thickness paper or cut the paper into various shapes for them to then cut up. For more advanced scissor users, you can first draw lines on paper for them to practice cutting along. Then, try making it a little more challenging by drawing squiggly lines to cut. After they master the lines, draw shapes to cut out. Cutting along the lines will usually take kids quite awhile, so just keep practicing!
You can also try other materials besides paper such as:
- Coffee filters
- Flower petals
- Junk Mail
- Aluminum Foil
- Paper Plates
Can preschoolers use scissors?
They can begin to use scissors at this age though it may be a few years before they master the skills. Many preschoolers love using scissors even if they are still learning. If your child starts three-year-old preschool, this is a skill that they start teaching at school. If your child is starting school later, they will still get instruction and tons of practice using scissors.
While preschoolers are mentally ready to use scissors by this time, physically they may still struggle. But the struggle at the beginning, just like any new skill, is normal! It can be challenging to sit back and watch while your child is obviously laboring to make even the smallest cut, but let them try to work it out by themselves first. After a few attempts, you can verbally offer tips. If they are still struggling, then offer assistance.
Should a 3 year old be able to use scissors?
Three year olds can use scissors, but, if it’s their first time, they will need a lot of practice and likely some assistance. Scissors can be a challenge for such little hands, and building those muscles will take time. Don’t be surprised if your three year old gets frustrated after trying at the beginning. That’s totally normal and will go away as they practice.
Depending on the strength of your three year old, they may be at various stages of learning to use scissors. Observe whether one hand is too difficult, and, if so, go back to using two hands. Every child is different and the timeline for mastering scissors varies.
What are the cutting skills for a 4 year old?
By this age, a 4 year old should be practicing scissor skills with one hand. They should understand what it means to cut along a straight line even though they will not stay perfectly on the line. As they approach age 5, they should entirely use scissors with one hand and understand cutting squiggly lines and shapes. Remember they will cut near the lines, but they don’t have to be exact! They are also still working on coordinating holding the paper and cutting at the same time.
What kind of scissors should my child use?
If you’re starting out with something like Play Doh or clay, your child can start by using the entirely plastic scissors. However, if they’re going to be cutting anything harder to cut, like paper, the plastic scissors tend to be more frustrating than helpful. ABC Pediactic Therapy has a wonderful resource on different types of scissors to use based on age. And remember, if your child is left handed, get them the scissors designed for lefties!
When can toddlers use scissors safely?
Toddlers can start using scissors safely whenever they begin to show interest as long as they have adult supervision. Even with scissors that seem dull, there should be an adult with them at all times. One important reason to always have an adult present is that it’s normal for toddlers to put the scissors in their mouths. This will happen, and an adult needs to tell them, “That’s not safe, and you have to stop.”
Here’s our toddler using two hands to cut (and yes he did try to put the scissors in his mouth).
Are ‘child-safe’ scissors really safe?
Any type of scissors, including the plastic ones, carry some risk to them. We cannot stress enough the importance of safety of using scissors with kids. Even the dull ended scissors that are labeled ‘child-safe’ can cut kids. Scissors of any kind, even for kids that have mastered scissor skills, can be dangerous and should never be left out.
Cutting skills by age
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