Development of Scissor Skills

For years I have stubbornly refused to give age norms for the development of scissor skills milestones. This is because I firmly believe that following and mastering each developmental sequence is way more important than the age at which they are accomplished.  As soon as we attach an age expectation to something, we shift the focus from the child being developmentally ready for a stage to being able to check off the tick box.  We do our children no favors if we progress to a new cutting stage in scissor skills activities before they have mastered the previous one.  Doing this will set them up to fail with scissor skills development.

Developmental stages for scissor skills

Before diving in with cutting lines, it is critical the grasp-release motion is built in first.  Handy scoopers (bubble scissors), tweezers, and spray bottles are just some activities you can include.

Straight-line cutting

I use fat lines to facilitate success and mastery of the grasp-release cutting motion.  Eliminating the need to focus on the lateral control of the scissors, which is demanded from a thin line, goes a long way to enable your child to master a continuous cutting motion which develops the muscles we are looking for in the development of scissor skills.

Which side to start on when cutting a sheet of lines

While we promote working from left to right to lay reading and writing foundations, cutting a sheet of lines has its own little nuance. If your right-handed child starts cutting the line on the left-hand side of the sheet, they are going to be holding onto the piece they are cutting off, and the large sheet is going to land on the table, or worse, the floor. However, if they cut from the right, they will be controlling and holding the large piece of paper and going to progress through the lines in a controlled way.

Bunty McDougall from The Happy Handwriter offers this blog post looking at development of scissor skills. It speaks of the importance of scissor skills developmnt and offers free scissor skills activities downloads.

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Circle cutting

Cutting circles follow on naturally from the straight lines because, in essence, they are like a straight line. They have no corners to navigate.

While I have (somewhat reluctantly!) given the age guidelines for the different milestones for development of scissor skills, the most important thing is walking the developmental path.  If your child has yet to master cutting lines, don’t rush to the circle, no matter their age. Instead, spend time consolidating line cutting, and then, once they have mastered that, it is time for circles.

Circles bring in a directional component requiring your child to be able to cut and follow the curve. If they had to focus on the grasp-release motion and the direction, it would become too much. They feel overwhelmed, and you have pitched the activity past the just-right challenge in your choice of scissor skills activities.

Circles also bring in the demand of choosing a cutting direction.  It has never failed to cause me to wonder why our children, who seem so averse to crossing the midline, seem to naturally want to cut in clockwise direction when first cutting circles! (Reverse this if your child is a lefty).  That aside, right handlers cut in an anti-clockwise direction and lefties cut clockwise.  I always tell the children to cut to the scissor side to facilitate a smooth path to the development of scissor skills.

A blog post looking at development of scissor skills. It speaks of the importance of scissor skills development and offers free scissor skills activities downloads.

Get your circle scissor skills activities by entering your details in the form below:

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External corners and traffic lights

The thing with external corners is to understand that (like all things OT) it is about the process and not the end product.  If it were about the end product, your children could just slice off one side of the square at a time and have a beautiful end product.  They would have cut four straight lines.  Not four corners. (Or three if we want to be technically correct!).

Mastering the cutting of a square is about manipulating the scissors around the corner.  This develops subtle graded wrist movements, which are used in handwriting as your child progresses across the page while writing and is an important stage in the development of scissor skills.

A fun downloadable eBook full of cutting practice worksheets designed by an occupational therapist to put the fun in scissor skills practice.

How to cut around a corner

  1. Draw traffic lights on each of the corner ears of the square.
  2. Choose a starting point.
  3. Cut to the scissor side.
  4. Cut to the traffic light.
  5. Stop at the light.
  6. Turn at the corner using co-operative movements of both hands.
  7. Cut to the next traffic light.
  8. When your child stops at the traffic light, their scissors should be partially open, so they can pivot on the point.
A scissor skills activities download in the scissor skills development blog post.

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Cutting internal corners

Internal corners are really the same as external corners when it comes to pivoting the scissors.  They are just more tricky because your child now needs to negotiate the paper and are the end goal in the development of scissor skills.

Complex manipulation

This brings together all the aspects of cutting. Once we are clear of the different stages on which this is built, it is clear why this is not the place to start.

Watch out for zig zags!

In most of those appealing classroom-based scissor skills stations, along with the straight lines, there is invariably a strip with zig-zags.  I have some concerns about this!  A zig-zag is not a direct follow-on upgrade of a straight line.  Cutting a zig-zag requires a high level of control over the directional manipulation of the scissors.  It also requires us to cut in a clockwise rather than in the anti-clockwise direction we have spoken about.

If we go back to first principles as to why we love cutting, it is all about promoting the grasp-release cutting motion to develop the foundational muscles for pencil grip and pencil control.  If we analyse zig-zag cutting, there is not a lot of the repetitive grasp-release cutting motion to be seen.  It is mainly about the wrist and bilateral manipulation.  This is a critical aspect of developing the subtle wrist manipulation required for handwriting.  But in the overall developmental sequence, my sense is that it comes in later, after the child has mastered internal and external corners, and alongside complex manipulation.  So while those lovely cutting station images tell us we should include zig-zags in our scissor skills activities, do give this a little thought before adding those in the early stages.  While they look great, all that glitters is not always gold, and we always need to be considering developmental progression when selecting our scissor skills activities.

In closing about scissor skills development

Without a doubt stages are more important than ages!  If you build on your child’s cutting skills from the basics upwards, you can look forward to them, not only developing the ability to cut, but also developing the muscles and movement patterns for pencil grip and pencil control.  Have fun with your scissor skills activities downloads!

©Bunty McDougall
Occupational Therapist

A download on the norms for the development of scissor skills and some bonus scissor skills activities!

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Heather from Growing Hands on Kids also has a scissor skills checklist.

More About scissor skills activities:

Handwriting cutting skills
Spiral cutting download from The Happy Handwriter
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Get your monkey cutting download

In the mood to shop for scissor skills development?

Learn to Cut eBook teaches scissor skills for preschoolers and has plenty of worksheets on how to cut with scissors.
cut and paste worksheets
Fine Motor Fun is a DIY resource for activities for developing fine motor skills for handwriting at home. And OT has done all the thinking so parents don’t have to worry and can know they are targeting exactly the right skills.
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