This post was originally published here on Mama OT on April 28th as an introductory resource for caregivers. Yesterday, however, I had the honor of writing as a guest columnist for PediaStaff’s OT Corner blog, a website serving as a resource for pediatric therapists across the country. Below is the new and improved second edition. It contains even more ideas and resources than the original post, so I wanted to share it here so you all could benefit, too. Enjoy!
Have you ever tried to teach little ones how to use scissors? It’s really hard! They have to figure out how to orient their hand, divide up their fingers, open and close the crazy things, and hold the material they are supposed to cut. Talk about a challenge for fine motor skills and bilateral coordination!
Beginner scissor skills typically involve learning how to perform one short snip at a time (around 2 years old) and how to make several short snips in a row along a line (around 2 1/2 to 3 years old). Then, as children enter preschool, it gets more advanced.
So how can you possibly teach a toddler to use something as complicated as scissors?
Use play dough!
Play dough is an ideal medium for introducing scissors because many toddlers are already familiar and comfortable with it, you can control the size and shape of the piece to be cut, and you can easily make it yourself (click here for traditional recipe and here for gluten-free, which is critical for kiddos with Celiac disease). Using play dough to teach snipping also causes less mess because you don’t have to worry about tiny pieces of paper flying everywhere. Kids can just smash the play dough pellets all together or make a new creation once they’re done! And as an added bonus, play dough does not discriminate between right- or left-handed snippers (unlike paper), so it can be easily used by everyone.
Play dough is also great because it provides a good deal of feedback to children’s hands, telling them how much resistance there is and, subsequently, how much pressure to use as they snip away. This feedback is an important contributor to the development of fine motor strength and overall skilled use of the hands.
Additionally, play dough snipping is a nice introduction to bilateral coordination, teaching kids how to use one hand to perform a skill (snipping with scissors) while the other hand acts as a “helper” (holding the play dough). Can you think of another task like this which kids must perform as they get older? Handwriting, of course!
One way to make play dough snipping fun is if kids pretend they’re making food for their animals or dolls. As you know, two- to three-year-olds are great at pretend play and, for some reason, I find they love to feed their toy animals and dolls. This is especially true if you — the mature adult — join in by snipping along and making outrageous “eating” noises. You know what I’m talking about: Num num num! Mmmmm! Yummm! Chomp! Seriously, kids get a huge kick out of grown-ups making eating sounds.
As far as scissors go, you can spend money on buying “play dough” scissors, or you can head to your store of choice (I like my local dollar store) and pick up some toddler safety scissors. It really depends on the child and your budget, so it’s up to you.
A few additional tips for introducing scissor snipping:
- Try introducing tongs, tweezers, hole punchers, chip clips, or kid-friendly chopsticks prior to asking kids to use scissors. This is a nice introduction to tool use and requires a similar skill set to scissor snipping. Learn how to make kid-friendly chopsticks by clicking here, and find ideas related to developing pre-scissor skills with tongs, tweezers, and more by clicking here.
- Some kids respond well to being told to give the scissors a “hand shake” in order to properly orient their snipping hand with the thumb up and pinky down.
- You can place a sticker on top of the scissor thumb loop to provide a visual cue for which side goes up and/or you can place a sticker on kids’ thumbnails to indicate which way to orient their hand (so they can see the sticker on their nail).
- Opening scissors is more difficult than closing them. Thus, if you help kids get their scissors into the open position over the play dough, they can then close the scissors independently and gain a sense of accomplishment by cutting the play dough “all by themselves”. How exciting for them!
- Try starting out with “spring scissors”, which not only makes it easier for kids to open the scissors but also provides increased feedback when closing them. I actually found some great ones at my local Dollar Tree (click here to view and order), but you can also find similar ones on Amazon for a few extra dollars by clicking here. I like these better than other models of adaptive “squeeze” scissors out there because they open wide like regular scissors while providing a little bit of assistance for the child who has weak hands or is simply new to using scissors.
Get creative with your play dough snipping and, before you know it, those little ones will be well on their way to developing scissor skills as they prepare a grand feast for their toy dolls and animals.
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If you are looking for more ways to help the kids in your life develop their fine motor and scissor skills, check out these resources from OT Mom that you can (legally) download to your computer or print for your own use. These helpful e-books are packed with practical, ready-to-use activity ideas (affiliate links included for your convenience, disclosure here):
OT Mom’s Fine Motor Bundle (Discounted price on Fine Motor Activities plus Scissor Skills Activities plus FREE Bonus Cutting Template)