Teaching Left Handers to Cut. Left Handed Scissor Skills

Cutting and scissor skills are one of the critical prewriting skills on account of the muscles they develop.  The muscles we use for opening and closing the scissors are the ones that are responsible for manipulating the pencil.  With this in mind, teaching left handers to cut is really important.  We want them to benefit from the muscle development offered by cutting.  Let's explore left handed scissor skills!

There is no reason why lefties should battle to cut.  The problem is usually that us right handers are unsure as to how we should approach teaching them.  So, this article is not so much about teaching left handers to cut, but about teaching right handers how to approach it.

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Teaching left handers to cut means left-handed scissors

Your lefty HAS to have left-handed scissors.  There are going to be adult lefties out there who are going to tell me that they can cut right.  And that is great.  The thing is we can learn to adapt to using the wrong scissors.  My son is a lefty and there only ever seem to be lefty scissors around when I am wanting to quickly cut something.  I have learned to adapt and angle the scissors just right to cut pretty well with left-handed scissors.  But that isn’t the point. Just because it can be done, doesn’t mean it is best practice.  The point is that there is no activity like cutting when it comes to developing the prewriting muscles.  We need to ensure our lefties can gain optimal benefit from cutting activities.  Having to learn to adapt is not really part of the optimal experience!

What is the difference between right-handed and left-handed scissors?

The structure of a pair of scissors is such that the upper cutting blade on right-handed scissors is on the right-hand side.  This means that if you as a lefty use these scissors, the blade is going to obstruct the cutting line.  This will make the end product look like you have hacked at it and you won’t be able to cut well on the line.  If this is not making sense, find a pair of lefty scissors and hold them in your right hand.  Now try and cut with them.  You will see the upper blade is on the left-hand side and obstructs the cutting line.  You are going to be cutting better if you use right-handed scissors.  And no, turning them upside down is not going to help!

Teaching left handers to cut.  Ambi scissors are a marketing ploy!

I have said this countless numbers of times over the years in my cutting workshops – don’t believe the marketing!  They will tell you the scissors are ambi scissors – that they are suitable for both lefties and right handers, but this is simply not true.  Left-handed scissor skills mean left-handed scissors!  The so-called ambi scissors that are sold in our toy stores are right-handed scissors.  If you hold the pair of scissors and the upper blade is on the right-hand side, they are right-handed scissors no matter how persuasively they tell you they aren’t.  Just because they can cut when a left hander is holding them, doesn’t make them left-handed scissors.  Even Wikipedia weighs in on this!

So now that we have dispensed with the left right ambi scissor controversy and the difference between right and left-handed scissors, let’s move on to the cutting process.

Cutting motion

The cutting motion is a grasp-release or opening and closing action.  Your child has to open and close the scissors over and over.  At the same time they must hold the paper with their supporting right hand. This is the foundation movement we need for cutting.  Remember about the grasp-release action as we progress through this.

What about the double loop training scissors?

teaching left handers to cut

In general, I am not a fan of them.  As occupational therapists we know that we sometimes need to use every trick in the book to enable our children to be successful in a task.  The scissors are designed so the child can hold the lower holes and the parent in the upper holes, and the parent performs the cutting motion.  This gives the child an experience of the movement.  But it is clumsy and awkward and there are better ways.  If we are wanting to give our children the sensory experience of the movement, then why not use any other activity that is going to replicate that movement?  Enter the spray bottle.

Apart from the hand strengthening it offers, this is why we love the spray bottle.  It requires your child to use the grasp-release motion over and over again, just as they do with cutting.  So, if we can playfully build in this movement with a spray bottle, why would be awkwardly leaning all over the child with the double loop scissors?  Make it fun and you are going to get a better outcome.

Scientists have recently determined that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain – unless it is done with play, in which case, it takes between 10 and 20 repetitions!

The late Dr. Karyn Purvis, Child Development Expert

Before some of you come and stage a protest outside my home while I am sleeping, I am not saying you cannot use double loop scissors. I am just saying try the other options first. Use double loop scissors as a last resort.

Self opening loop scissors

teaching left handers to cut

And what about the loop scissors?  The loop scissors are fantastic to assist those children who struggle to open their hand once they have closed the scissors.  But in the typical population, I rarely find this to be a problem.  The problem I find is that the children lack control over the grasp motion and close the scissors completely with each cutting stroke, rather than stopping just before the scissors close.  So, again, use the self opening loop scissors judiciously for a very select child who struggles to open their hand.  And again, only after you have spent some time with the spray bottle and the handy scoopers.  And as far as I can ascertain, the loop scissors do not come as lefty scissors.

Left-handed Magic Scissors®

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The Magic Scissors® were specifically designed for the majority of children I have seen over the years who tend to close the scissors completely with each cutting stroke.  You may wonder what the big deal with this is.  If the beginner cutter closes the scissors completely with every cutting stroke, they keep losing their place and have to reposition their scissors each time, only to lose it again as the close the scissors with the next cutting stroke.  The Magic Scissors prevent the tips of the scissors from closing completely so even though our children lack the graded control to stop just before the scissors close completely, it doesn’t matter.  The open tip “holds” the paper in place.  This enables your child to achieve success in cutting.  As they cut, the muscles and graded muscle control improves.  And, in time, you will be able to move across to regular scissors and your child will no longer lose their palace while cutting.  Our left-handed Magic Scissors are design patented, as are those for our right-handed friends.

An online mini-course presented by occupational therapist, Bunty McDougall, about left handers including many tips and strategies including left handed scissor skills.

Cut to the side of the scissor hand

If your child is cutting straight lines, our lefties need to start on the left-hand side.  If they start on the right-hand side, they are going end up holding the piece they have cut off and not the page itself.  If you are looking for an introduction to cutting you cannot go wrong with the Learn to Cut.

Left handed scissor skills: circles, square and other objects

Lefties must cut to the left-hand side of the object they are cutting out.  If not, they are going to get themselves tied in knots and be accused of looking like an awkward lefty.  If your child is looking awkward while they are cutting, then it is a good idea to check this step out.  Are they cutting to the left side of the object or, as I tell them, the scissor side?  This is critical for left handed scissor skills.

I have always wondered why they do this.  But they do.  Watch out and remind them to cut to the scissor side!

The right handed cutting rules apply

The normal right-handed rules for cutting like “thumbs up” still applies when teaching left handers to cut.  The thumb holding the scissors must be on the top, and the thumb of the working hand must be on top of the paper.

Teaching left handers to cut spirals. Left handed scissor skills

When it comes to cutting spirals, our lefties must get their very own sheet.  Think about it.  If the spiral is anti-clockwise, then it will be great for our right-handed friends, but our lefties will get tied up in knots. Not because they are doing anything wrong.  But simply because we have not correctly orientated the spiral for them.  Our lefties need their spiral to be clockwise.

Way back when I first started on my cutting journey, I had a spiral cutting snake sheet in my practice.  And I just turned it over and traced the back of the snake for our lefties.  But today, I have made you one for both our lefties and right-handed children.  And make sure you don’t give the right-handed children the lefty snake either!

Teaching left handers to cut.  Sit opposite your left hander

Lefties shouldn’t experience any difficulties cutting on account of their being left handed.  Difficulties arise when we forget to put in the basic accommodation of supplying them with the correct scissors or cutting sheets with the correct direction.

If you are right handed and are getting in a muddle teaching left handers to cut, choose to sit opposite rather than beside them.  This way your lefty will just mirror and copy you and there is no need for you to to try and work out which way to show them.  This is a great strategy for left handed scissor skills.

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What if my lefty wants to cut right handed?

From a handedness theory point of view, it is an acceptable pattern of usage for a left hander to cut right.  So long as a child shows consistency within tasks – meaning they don’t keep switching hands while they are busy cutting their snake – it is fine for them to use for example their left hand for handwriting, and their right for playing tennis.  Taking this into consideration it is then fine from a hand preference usage point of view to write left and cut right.

But coming back to the place where we started, cutting is critical for the development of the muscle foundations for pencil grip and handwriting.  Where I am confronted by a child who has really weak fine motor pencil control, my first intervention to develop these foundations is to cut to the moon and back.  If I have a lefty who cuts right and their pencil control is just fine, I let it be.  However, if their pencil control is really bad, I explore the issue with the child.  I explain how cutting can help them with their drawing and writing, and ask them how they feel.  If they are open to cutting left, I make the most of it. And if they don’t, I let it be and use other activities to develop their muscle and movement pattern foundations.

We want our children to master cutting and enjoy participating in it.  As I always say, children learn while they are having fun.  Our lefties are not going to engage in cutting tasks and benefit from its amazing muscle development benefits if they are not enjoying themselves.  If we introduce left handed scissor skills carefully when teaching left handers to cut, our children will have a sense of mastery and with that comes enjoyment.

©Bunty McDougall
Occupational Therapist

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