One of the most frequently asked questions I get as a pediatric occupational therapist, is when should a child start learning to use scissors? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question and is very child dependent.
Things to Consider
Typically speaking, scissors can be introduced as early as 2 years old. Children are beginning to develop an interest in activities such as crafts and building things that often incorporate the development of fine motor skills. They are increasing their independence and have a strong desire to do things just like mom or dad including using tools like eating utensils and scissors. With careful supervision and adult modeling, learning to use scissors can be a fun and engaging activity for many toddlers. One thing to consider when determining if your child is ready is their behavior and impulse control. Safety is always of the utmost importance when using scissors. If your child has difficulty following adult directions, has poor visual attention, or demonstrates harmful behaviors towards others, I would not recommend introducing scissors just yet.
When You Begin
When introducing scissors, I would start by purchasing age-appropriate blunt-nosed scissors for safety. If your child demonstrates a left hand preference, be sure to trial left-handed scissors. The blades are positioned differently allowing the user to see the cutting line. Take some time to practice with these scissors and determine if this is appropriate for your child. If your child seems to have great difficulty using regular scissors, there are a variety of adaptive scissors to aide in certain aspects of the task. For example, if one of my clients is struggling with finger placement and the open/close motion, I may recommend trying spring-loaded scissors with a loop instead of finger holes. Stepping back and utilizing an adaptive tool, allows the child to focus on building the underlying skills needed to use scissors while reducing the demands of the task (i.e. remembering where to put fingers).
The following activities help to develop many of the foundational skills needed to be successful with scissors.
Encourage your child to help by spraying household plants, during bath time, or wipe off an easel. Doing so helps to develop intrinsic muscles of the hand and develop an understanding of the grasp/release motion also used to snip with scissors.
Playdough scissors or rolling pins
Playdough is one of my favorite go to activities that I use with my kiddos as it can be utilized to address many areas. It builds hand strength and coordination needed to adequately manage scissors. Playdough scissors are a safe way to practice snipping and open/close. Using child or playdough rolling pins also encourages bilateral coordination or the effective use of both hands.
This is such a simple yet fun and effective way to practice using scissors. Using regular width straws, encourage your child to close scissors and watch the straw pieces fly! For added challenge, have your child gather the pieces and string them onto a pipe cleaner or lace.
Clothespins are another simple yet valuable tool in my OT toolbox that have many uses. Similar to spray bottles, they help to develop the grasp/release or open/close motion that is used with scissors. They help to develop fine motor coordination and build small muscles of the hand.
Crafts are one of my favorite OT activities because the sky’s the limit in terms of my creativity! I often am asked by others, why I am doing art with my children, but in reality I am not focused on the finished product. I am focused on the process and the many ways children can develop fine motor skills like using scissors by completing a craft project. Making a craft is also much more motivating to children than simply using paper and scissors to practice cutting.