Scissor Skill Development: Plus 3 Outside Snipping Activities

As a school-based occupational therapist, I work on fine motor skills with students on a daily basis. In the preschool setting, I frequently educate staff and parents on how to develop scissor skills.  In order to cut with scissors a child requires foundational skills.  They will need to have good postural control, shoulder and arm stability, coordination, hand strength, and manual dexterity skills.  Children also require repeated exposure to scissors to learn how to manipulate and strengthen their skills.

The purpose of this article is to educate you on the development of scissor skills by age, and provide you with outdoor snipping activities. Looking at a developmental chart, like the one below, can help therapists determine what skills your child has mastered and what skills they continue to struggle with. From there, you want to provide the just-right challenge. This means if a child struggles to snip with scissors, you would not give the child an activity that they must cut out shapes. This may be frustrating to them and you. Instead, you may want to have the child engage in activities that would strengthen snipping activities. Once this skill is mastered, the child would then participate in activities to advance the scissors in a forward motion in order to cut across paper.

Age in Years Scissor Skill Developed
1.5-2 Begins to grasp scissors; uses both hands to open/close scissors  
2 Snips with scissors  
2.5 Child can advance scissors forward and cut across a 6-inch piece of paper (NOT A LINE)  
3-3.5 Cuts on and across a 6-inch line and begins manipulating paper with their non-dominant hand  
3.5-4 Cuts out a circle within ½ -inch to ¼ -inch from the cutting line  
4-5 Cuts out a square within ¼-inch from the cutting line  
6-7 Cuts out various shapes  

If your child has a difficult time snipping with scissors, check out the following fun-filled, outdoor snipping activities! Before I get into the activities, I want to tell you why I love outdoor play. It immerses the child into a sensory pool as nature provides their bodies with so much feedback. For example, the grass they touch under the sun may be a different texture than the grass growing under the tree. The leaves they touch may be wet even though they thought the leaves would be dry. The flowers and plants all smell different so they may discover they like the smell of roses, but not tulips. Lastly, the rocks they pick up that were sitting in the sun may be warm and heavy, when compared to the rocks in the shade. My favorite reason for taking scissors out into nature is because there are so many objects that we can snip to keep kids engaged for hours! 

Cut the Grass

The first activity is cutting the grass.  Have the child cut the grass with the roots anchored into the soil or have the child pluck one blade of grass. The grass is light and thin, which makes it easy to snip. This activity will promote the action of opening and closing scissors, along with using their non-dominant hand as a stabilizer.

Cut the leaves

To complete this activity you want to gather some leaves. Have your child help pull leaves off of bushes and trees. From there your child can practice their snipping skills by making fringe around the entire leaf. If your child is able to advance the scissors forward, then have them cut the leaves in half. This activity begins to integrate in-hand manipulation skills as the non-dominant hand attempts to rotate the leaf.

Cut weeds and flowers

This is exactly as it sounds! First, have the child hold the stem of a flower. Next, have them snip the stem below where they are holding it. After they snip the flowers, make a bouquet and place them in a vase.  This activity can make a beautiful homemade gift! The activity also strengthens the action of opening and closing scissors, similar to the grass activity. However, thicker stems are harder to cut and children with weaker hands may have a hard time with this activity.

Finally, the best advice I can provide you with is that kids learn through play and repeated exposure! So make sure to keep these activities fun and engaging! I hope your children makes some beautiful bouquets!

-Brittany Stout, OTR/L


Case-Smith, Jane, and Jane Clifford O’Brien. Occupational Therapy for Children. Mosby Elsevier, 2010.