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Scissor Skills


The ability to:

  • Sit upright without fear of tipping over (good sense of balance is required)
  • Open and close the hand voluntarily to grasp and release objects
  • Bring the hands to a mid-line position and use them functionally in a lead-assistor fashion
  • Isolate the thumb
  • Isolate the index finger and index/middle fingers
  • Bring the thumb into opposition to index/middle fingers
  • Coordinate eye-hand (and arm) movement (forearm, wrist and shoulder)
  • Grasp and release
  • Coordinate both hands together (to hold paper with one hand and cut with the other)


  • The child should have reached the stage of constructive play
  • Have some idea of size, shape and colour
  • Have sufficient attention to work at the tasks


  • Determine handedness of the child and provide appropriate left or right handed scissors
  • Select style of scissors i.e. long loop, assistor trainer scissors, spring-loaded scissors appropriate to the ability of the child in order to facilitate success
  • Ensure the scissors offered are actually sharp enough
  • Ensure that the child is seated correctly with his/her feet on the floors and trunk stabilised on the chair, the chair is close enough and at a good angle to the table
  • With low toned children prepare them for the task with a short warm up;

o Clapping game
o Matching left and right finger tips and pressing together 5 times
o Stretching a band between thumbs, between index/middle fingers of left and right hands

  • Pick up scissors correctly
  • Draw his/her attention to the task, make sure he/she knows what he has to do and is focused on the activity

HOLDING THE SCISSORS (standard style)

Holding the scissors involves placing the middle finger and ring finger in the lower loop and thumb in the upper loop. The first (index) finger is used on the outside of the lower loop to add stability.

Rest the scissor-loops near the bent middle-joint of the fingers.

Some children may evolve their own style for holding scissors and only need to be corrected when their style affects functional performance.


1. If necessary commence with pre-scissor games which assist the hand to develop the required functional motor skills.

  • Finger isolation: Drawing in sand, flour, corn flour mixtures with index/ middle fingers. Finger paint to make print of thumb, index and middle fingers
  • Finger/thumb opposition - peg games i.e. pegging
  • The assistor hand to stabilise paper or toys

Games to develop perceptual skills can be built into the motor skills games:

a. Draw in materials like sand between markers

b. Paint finger prints along pathway drawn onto paper - snail trails

2. Use a variety of tongs and scissor like tools to play games lifting things like cotton wool, between containers.
Water pistols etc. can be used in games to develop thumb/ finger dexterity and power (manipulation skills) - use them to fire at a target.

3. Make a scissor puppet (using old blunt scissors and cardboard) i.e. like a crocodile mouth that can be opened and shut to develop opening and closing skills.

4. Using stiffer paper which won't flop in the child's hand (old cards and post cards can be ideal) play at making random strips around the edge of the card. DO NOT push the child towards making more than one cut into the card.

Use scissors to snip pieces of plastic straws.

5. Comment making forward scissor movements aiming for a forward visual goal i.e. the opposite edge of the paper/ card
Consider using a bulldog clip on the card or paper to make it easier to hold.

6. The next stage has two components which affects the child's performance:

a. Cutting within a pre-determined area

b. Controlling the paper while this is done

  1. Return to narrow strips to cut across and colour a block on the strip within which the child has to make one or two snips to reach the other side
  2. Start with 1'' to 11/2'' block on the paper card
  3. Increase the width of the strip of paper/card by degrees
  4. Decrease the width of the coloured blocks gradually to a line approximately ¼ - 1/8'' wide
  5. Practice cutting between two specific points i.e. two gummed shapes on paper/card connected by a drawn line

7. Cutting out shapes – Shapes become progressively more difficult in the following order:

a. Four sided shapes: rectangles, squares etc.
b. Three sided shapes: triangular
c. Semi-circular shapes
d. Circular shapes
e. Irregular curved pathways drawn on paper
f. Simple free shapes
g. More complex pictures/shapes

NOTE: Curved lines are more difficult to cut for the beginner. During this time it may initially be easier and more effective to turn the paper and hold the scissors still when directional changes are required. Initial attempts to turn the scissors while the assistor hand keeps the paper still may be uncoordinated but practice improves the smoothness and efficiency of movement.

8. The child can continue to develop their skill by practicing with increasingly thin paper; different textures i.e. sandpaper, foil, textiles etc.

9. Throughout the development of scissor skills where the effort of the session can be turned into a finished product the child will have an external sense of achievement which can be shared and reinforces his/her motivation to practice again.


a. Snipped pieces of card can be made into mobile or wall hangers. Paste onto a contrasting centre panel and bend snipping edge pieces in/out. Hang from a thread or card strip from the wall.
b. Paper chains.
c. Cut along dotted lines on a square towards the centre circle. Bring in tip into the centre and fasten to stick with a pin. Use a short piece of straw as a separator
d. Collages: Using materials that have been snipped e.g. card/straws/pictures
e. Cut out pictures to make a scrapbook
f. Paper snowflakes can be simple through to complex involving multiple straight and curved cuts, cut out shaded areas.

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