Master preschool scissor skills at home in a safe and fun way
Preschool scissor skills can sound a little intimidating. The thought of a 2 or 3 year old running around with scissors makes most people’s hair stand on edge.
But developmentally scissor skills are an important fine motor milestone for preschool aged kids.
This is a guide for parents on how to get started with scissor skills at home with a 2 or 3 year old. Master scissor skills in a safe and fun way with your preschooler.
Developmental milestones for scissor skills in the preschool years
Scissor skills are linked to fine motor developmental milestones and these milestones are important to monitor.
Like every area of development milestones help us measure this one skill (ie: scissor skills). But they also measures the development of many, many underlying developmental skills. These underlying skills have a much larger influence than just scissor skills.
For example: Checking preschool scissor skills gives us pictures of how they are able to coordinate movements from both sides of their body. This has huge implications for things like climbing, writing, driving (later on obviously).
This is the level of scissor skills that we expect to see:
- 2 ½ year old : holding scissors and snipping paper
- 3 year old: moving scissors forward while cutting a longer area
- 3 1/2 year old: cuts 15cm straight line, relatively close to the drawn line
- 4 year old cuts curvy line, relatively close to the drawn line
It is also important to know milestones so that we can judge whether what we are presenting to our 2 or 3 year olds is developmentally appropriate. When we expect our young kids to do complicated crafts and cutting that is above their developmental level, it often leaves them feeling like they didn’t succeed and us feeling frustrated about the 40 minutes we took to prepare this cutsie activity that only got 2 minutes of attention.
It really is better to just keep things simple and suitable for your preschoolers age and stage. You can see some developmentally appropriate activities for practicing scissor skills with 2 and 3 year olds below.
Only at 6 years old the average child will be able to cut out pictures from a magazine.
How to hold a pair of scissors
Position Your preschoolers hands inside scissors is one of those things that are easier to see than explain. You can see an example in this picture. However, if in doubt check how you hold scissors to direct you.
- Thumb: Inside the upper opening of the scissors
- Middle finger: Supports the bottom base of the scissors
- Index finger: Inside the lower opening of the scissors
- Assist hand: Supports the paper and holds it off the tables
- Wrist: faces inwards
Encouraging proper grasp of scissors even at age 2 years old is really important. When kids are left to hold scissors in the incorrect way they often learn little “tricks” to make the activity of cutting work. Like pulling at the paper to tear it or cutting very fast and not trying to get close to the line.
These little tricks may not seem like a big deal now because either way a 2 year olds cutting is pretty messy however the problem kicks in later at school age. Often we see these kids referred for therapy and it takes a lot of practice to “undo” these tricks and reposition the hand correctly. More so, it means that your preschooler isn’t getting the full benefits of fine motor skill development when they are practicing scissor skills.
Which scissors should I buy for my 2 year old:
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Technically you can absolutely start off with regular preschool scissors but if that feels intimidating or you feel like you and your toddler get tripped up by organising their fingers into the scissors try out some of these options:
- Loop scissors: These are my personal favorite to start out with because it trains the kids in the wrist position and open and close movement without having to worry about the finger holes. For the first couple of months these are great but it is good to move on from them.
- Spring action scissors: These are scissors with a spring (that you can open or close) that make the opening of the scissors very easy and just take the action of cutting with scissors one step easier. Again these are great for young toddlers or kids that are struggling with scissor skills but you do want to move on from them.
- Dual control scissors: These are those odd looking scissors with 2 spaces for fingers on each blade. They help train kids in the action of opening and closing if they have difficulty planning that motor movement. Although these can be good for therapy – they wouldn’t be my first recommendation for 2 and 3 year olds. Why? I prefer the loop scissors (and using non cutting activities to strengthen scissor skills) because they still allow for the act of cutting to be something that the child can enjoy. When we get too complicated in trying to teach our toddlers can become bored or uninterested.
At the age of 2 or 3 years kids haven’t established hand dominance. Meaning at this age you will notice that your kid does seem to use one hand (left or right) more than the other when coloring, using scissors and eating. However they are likely to still swop frequently.
If you notice that your preschooler seems to favor the left hand, then I would recommend getting lefty scissors. The reason being that if you try to hold right handed scissors in your left hand- you won’t be able to cut paper. It will bend inside the scissors and can teach kids that they need to rip the paper while cutting.
Safety when teaching scissor skills to 2 and 3 year olds
Is it dangerous to let kids use scissors?
I know this is a big hurdle for many parents. At the age of 2 year old many parents are still very hesitant to let their toddlers attempt to use a butter knife- never mind a pair of scissors. As well as many scissors being marked “for 3 year olds and up”
Developmentally- yes your 2 year old should be able to manage a short, developmentally appropriate, cutting activity without harming themselves. For this reason it can be good to start with plastic blades or the loop scissors because it does make the activity a little less intimidating.
Let’s think about this though… By not allowing your 2 year old to practice scissor skills at home it naturally means that they will have to learn this skill from scratch at preschool. Meaning they will be holding these scissors while there is noise and several other kids around all holding scissors and the ratio of adult to child is much much smaller.
Whereas, if you practice at home first you will be able to give 2 year old much more supervision and explain more on how to hold the paper so that all fingers are safe.
How to make scissor skill activities safe for preschool ages kids:
- Use scissors that you are comfortable with but make sure that they really can cut a piece of paper. Often the plastic scissors can’t actually cut which means your preschooler will be using much more effort in the movement and often trying to tear while simultaneously cut which can lead to accidents.
- Supervision: When you are first getting started try and structure the time that you are going to be practicing scissor skills with your preschooler. Make sure they are sitting, that any jumping animals or little siblings aren’t going to bother you, and that you can be present for the time.
- Developmentally appropriate: Often parents introduce scissor skills using some really cute craft that requires much more advanced scissor skills than a preschool developmentally is ready for. When we get into this mentality of “teaching” and getting things right it often ends in toddler power struggles. Use these activity ideas below and try to keep scissor skill practice as simple as possible. Kids are generally really interested in scissors and their ability to cut something so you don’t need to make an activity with all the bells and whistles- simple cutting strips and playdough is enough to keep your preschool engaged.
5 fun activities for preschool scissor skills development
Cutting playdough is a great activity to help introduce a 2 year old to scissor skills. Basically you need to roll out the playdough to a relatively thin sausage (it should be thin enough that cutting it in half only requires 1 snip (in other words: your toddler doesn’t need to move their hand forward).
I like to then get them to squish each little piece that they have cut using 1 finger. Or to put them all together as eggs in a nest. Prompting them towards a simple game afterwards transforms the activity into self directed play.
Another way to mix this up is to freeze the sausage of playdough. It adds a sensory component to the cutting activity and gives the preschooler more sensory feedback while doing the movement for snipping.
Feeding the animals
Cut paper into thin strips and draw a couple of lines along the strip so that they can see where they should cut. Let your 2 year old try to cut close to the line (don’t worry about correcting them if they are off the line. Their attempt to get closer each time is great practice.
Once they have cut the small strips you can feed the pieces to an animal, doll or figurine.
Cut a big circle out of butcher paper and let your preschooler color in or paint the tomato sauce. Cut a few different colors of cardstock into 5cm diameter strips and draw lines vertically to make the pizza toppings.
Leather the pizza with some glue and let your preschooler cut each striip from the cardstock and stick it to the pizza.
As you see in the picture, we also tore up some crinkle paper as the cheese for the pizza. Tearing is a fantastic pre-scissor skills activity for kids under 2 years old.
This was a fun way to get both my preschooler and my toddler (under 2) involved in one simple scissor skills activity.
Cutting long stips off the table
Cut a few 15cm long strips of cardstock and draw a vertical line (straight or curved) down the middle of the paper. Tape each strip on the edge of a kiddie table so that the main part of the strip is hanging off the table.
Let your toddler go around the tabel cutting each strip as close to the line as possible.
If they want to you can stick all of the cut pieces around a circle at the end to make a big flower.
Often preschoolers get tripped up in their scissor skill development because they haven’t quite mastered using their assist hand to stabilize the page off the table. This activity is a great way to practice that skill.
Bee and flowers scissor skills activity
- Few yellow cardstock ovals with little bee faces drawn on them
- Strip of black cardstock
- Circle for the inside of the flower
- Large circle for the flower petals
Let your preschooler cut the balck cardstock into several thin stripes and stick them onto the bees. They can then cut many snips to make the petals of the flower.
This a fun way to combine different scissor skills and also practice sequencing and following several steps. It is best for a 3 + year old because they will be able to follow those steps more easily and won’t get frustrated or uninterested during the activity.
Why are scissor skills important in the preschool years?
Did you know that preschool scissor skills are one of the common referrals pediatric occupational therapists receive? Why?
- Kids aren’t doing it enough. Teaching cutting can be scary. We presume that it will be done at preschool while the reality is most preschools have at least 6 kids on 1 adult. Think about 6 3 year olds learning to cut with 1 adult. Obviously there are exceptions but in my experience working in preschools- scissor skills happen once a week at the very most and often much less than that.
My recommendation is that 2 and 3 year olds should be doing some simple scissor skills activity for 10 + minutes twice a week.
- Bilateral integration: meaning the 2 halves of the body can function in sync. It’s developed by activities like crawling, climbing and riding a bike.
If there are issues in bilateral coordination they may not be very noticeable or seen as related to other things until it comes to cutting which has to have the support hand in order to do.
- Many of the early scissor skills activities you find online are really more for 6 year olds and up. On top of that so many toddler scissor skills activity ideas show kids using bad form for holding and manipulating scissors. Scissor skills like all areas of development aren’t just something to put a tick next to to show we completed it. They need to be offered to kids according to the age and stage that they are at.