Cutting the Frustration – 5 Simple Tips to Teach Scissor Skills

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Cutting the Frustration – 5 Simple Tips to Teach Scissor Skills

Wide-eyed parents surprised by the skill of their toddler’s self-imposed “haircut” may be skeptical about the importance of teaching scissor skills in the classroom. Certainly, some children just KNOW how to use scissors…right? 😉 Seriously though: it is not unusual for a child to struggle with the concept and need assistance with at least ONE of the scissor skills needed to master the art of cutting.

Scissor use involves several types of skills that need to work in tandem. Fine motor skills, used to grasp and maneuver the scissors, are frequently underdeveloped in younger children or in those with special needs. Solid eye-hand coordination is also necessary to follow the movement of the scissors as well as bilateral coordination to simultaneously use each side of the body to perform different tasks (e.g., one hand to use the scissors, one hand to maneuver the paper). Here, we offer some tips and tricks to help ease the frustration that can occur when teaching little ones scissor skills and how to properly use sharp and pointy objects.


Tip #1: Don’t Skimp on Safety

The cost of school supplies can make it seem tempting to fulfill requirements with the support of your local dollar store. But for children who are gingerly wielding this sharpest of tools, good quality is imperative. Absolute beginners require blunt-tip safety scissors, and some may benefit from a spring-loaded pair, which are easier to open and close. Small hands tire easily, no matter how adept a child is with scissors. If they are using a sub-par pair, the project will take longer and become more frustrating. If your student is working on hand strength or the basic cutting motion by cutting play dough or putty, there are scissors designed for those materials as well.


Tip #2: Teach Simple Strategies

In the beginning, some students will have no idea that there is a “right way” to hold scissors. The variety of ways in which younger students will twist and turn their hands in attempting to hold scissors is remarkable, and improper holding form can continue for months if not corrected. To speed up the learning process for scissor-holding, Pre-K Pages suggests wrapping a small piece of electrical tape around the thumb hole and telling students that they should see the tape while cutting. To further enhance the concept, The Inspired Treehouse recommends “thumbs up cutting.” This method involves putting a sticker on both of the child’s thumbs. Instruct the children that if they can see stickers on both the cutting hand and the helper’s hand, then they are cutting properly. The Inspired Treehouse also suggests having the child put the scissors down between each task so that they have multiple opportunities to pick up and grasp the scissors correctly.


Tip #3:  Stack Learning

It’s important to “stack” learning: lay a foundation, then add learning opportunities that expand with each layer above that foundation. For example, once you notice a child’s correct grasp and cutting motion, it’s time to work on accuracy and control. Place a sticker in the middle of the paper, and ask the child to cut up to the sticker. Alternately, smoosh half of a fruit snack to the paper (it should stick on its own), then have the child cut to the fruit snack and eat it. To stack on the next layer of learning, put lines on the paper leading to the target and ask the child to cut along the lines. The lines can be as thick as needed; consider changing the thickness level as scissor skills develop further.


Tip #4:  Know Shaping Strategies

Even students who know exactly how to use scissors sometimes snip shapes a bit too much – or in half – asking, “Can you tape this for me?” There are a few strategies that can save your students from a lot of frustration – and spare some shapes. While mistakes may still occur, these ideas will ultimately give you, your students (and your tape dispenser!) a break.

  • Draw an arrow on the paper to indicate the cutting direction. Right-handed students should cut counter-clockwise while lefties should cut clockwise.
  • Draw a dotted line from the edge of the paper to the shape so students know where to cut to reach the shape.
  • Draw a dot (or place a sticker) beyond the corner to show how far to cut before turning the paper to get to the next side of a shape.


Tip #5:  Be Concrete, and Imagine the Fun!

Some students will need more practice and encouragement than others to get their scissor skills just right. For students who need concrete directions, you may need to instruct them on how many cuts are needed, and then count along with them as they cut. A simple “1-2-3-4-stop” may be sufficient.

When a student needs a little bit more instruction (e.g. a student who doesn’t yet understand that scissors must be pushed forward), it can be helpful to use imagery to complement concrete instructions. For example, you can pretend that the scissors are an alligator’s mouth that is chomping down on the paper. Demonstrate that the alligator opens his mouth, chomps the paper, opens his mouth again, and then pushes forward before he can chomp again. Saying the instructions (“chomp, open push, chomp, open, push…”) along with the child can reinforce his or her cutting skills.

Imagery use can also spark the interest of a reluctant or unengaged student. Draw railroad tracks, and tell the student the scissors are the train; the train needs to cut the tracks in half all the way along. Or maybe it’s a dog walking a path to the doghouse or a monkey climbing a tree to get a banana. Fun images can be motivating and help the child relax when facing an otherwise mundane task.

You can also try using fun physical items. Create a path of Wiki sticks, play dough, or puffy paint for the student to follow with the scissors. Get some bulletin board trim – the bumpy cardboard kind. It has straight and curvy edges to cut along, and the texture offers both more resistance and stability as well as sensory input.


With a little patience and creativity, you can have your students mastering scissor skills with minimal frustration…and (hopefully) no surprise haircuts!

Have you tried any of the above tips? Do you have other ideas from your experience in teaching scissor skills? Please tell us (and your fellow clinicians!) in the comments below.


About the writer: Jennifer Elston

Jennifer works in a Special Education Classroom in Central PA. In her spare time, she is thrilled to be sharing her deepest thoughts, best hacks, and favorite curated ideas with Therapy Source’s audience of blog readers.


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