Have you ever tried to teach a little one how to use scissors? It’s really hard! Not only do they have to figure out how to divide up their fingers in order to operate the crazy things, but they also have to learn how to open and close them, as well as how to 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 from there.
So how can you possibly teach a toddler to use something as complicated as scissors?
Use play dough!
Play dough is the perfect medium for introducing scissors because many toddlers are already familiar and comfortable with it, you can easily make it yourself, you can control the size and shape of the piece to be cut (big and flat, long snake, etc.), and you don’t have to throw away the tiny pieces that get snipped off…you can just smash them all together or make a new creation once you’re done!
Play dough is also great because it provides a good deal of sensory “feedback” to a child’s hands, telling their little paws how much resistance there is and, subsequently, how much pressure to use as they snip away. This sensory feedback is an important contributor to the development of fine motor strength and overall skilled use of the hands.
Additionally, snipping play dough 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? Fine, I’ll tell you: HANDWRITING.
One way to make play dough snipping fun is if kids pretend they’re making food for their animals or dolls. 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” (which are fully plastic, no metal blade, and typically come as part of an expensive play dough kit), 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, so it’s up to you.
Get creative with your play dough snipping and, before you know it, those little ones will be on their way to skilled scissor use!
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)
Join the newsletter!
Want more handy tips & tricks to help the kids in your life?
Subscribe to Mama OT so you can receive updates about new posts, helpful tidbits & a look at what's going on behind the scenes.