In part 1 of scissor skill development, we focused on the 5 pre-requisite skills that children need to develop in order to learn how to cut, which are: grip, including opening and closing the hand, bilateral use of hands, individual movements of fingers as well as combined movements, upper body stabilisation, and using the eyes to track and work together with the hands.
We will now focus on learning to cut.
There are 9 sequential stages to learning to cut using scissors, it is important for the child to be confident at each stage before moving onto the next.
Stage 1 – The child will begin to bring the scissors and paper together whilst imitating a cutting action, although not progressing to actually cutting.
Stage 2 – The child will begin to hold the scissors correctly (thumb facing upwards in the top loop, middle finger in the bottom loop and index finger to help guide) and the child will begin to use both hands together (one to hold the scissors and the other to hold to item being cut). This skill can be practised through increased bilateral integration activities throughout the day.
Stage 3 – Once the grip on the scissors is mastered, the child will begin learning to open and close the scissors appropriately (not too far open but just enough to cut efficiently). You may provide support by giving hand over hand assistance or allowing the opportunity for alternative learning using other resources such as tongs to practise the motor plan of opening and closing tools. The child will not be at the stage to start introducing cutting paper until this skill is mastered, you may however, choose to practise snipping straws or pieces of play dough in preparation for stage 4.
Stage 4 – The child will begin to cut using small snips – for example: straws or thin pieces of paper. During this stage, the child will show no direction when cutting and will not move forward whilst cutting; it is purely independently opening and closing the scissors whilst cutting. You may observe the child making large opening and closing movements with the hand and the fingers may slip out of the loops during this stage. You may choose to start introducing cutting snips of index cards as they are easier to control due to the lack of flexibility that you get whilst cutting paper.
Stage 5 – The child will begin to cut in a forward motion. To help develop this skill, the child may start by cutting thick, small, one inch lines on an index card to provide some stability within the material being cut thus enabling the child to fully concentrate on the correct use of the tool. As this skill develops, begin to introduce cutting more flexible items such as thick paper and increase the width of the line being cut, for example: 2 inches.
Stage 6 – The ability to cut along a straight line. Begin by teaching the child to cut along thick lines, you may choose to use a black marker to create this, reducing the thickness as the child progresses. It may be beneficial to vary the length of the lines being cut and creating a point that the child needs to cut to; this will help the child to develop the ability to start and stop when required. The child will need to hold the scissors in a 90 degree position (in between palms up and palms down), or thumbs up, which is why it is really important to work on the pre-requisite skills such as: upper body stabilisation or forearm stability exercises.
Stage 7 – Learning to cut with a directional change. The child will start to learn how to manipulate the paper whilst cutting so that the scissors can remain in a position optimal for cutting along the line and so the forearm can remain in a stabilised position, tucked into the body. The child may begin learning to cut along a curved line.
Stage 8 – This stage can be cut into 2 small parts including:
• Part 1- The child may start to learn how to cut simple geometrical shapes such as: triangle, square and rectangle as the skill of cutting along a straight line will have been achieved.
• Part 2 – Introduce the child to cutting out rounded edges which may include shapes such as a semi-circle, circle, curves and ovals.
It is important to increase the amount of opportunities this can be practised and provide the correct amount of reinforcement as this skill can be quite difficult to learn.
Stage 9 – The child may begin to learn how to cut out complex shapes, designs and pictures. This stage can be cut into 2 small parts including:
• Part 1 – Begin with learning to cut out hearts or stars for example.
• Part 2 – Move onto cutting out people or animals.
The child will initially cut by turning the paper to cut along the line as the shape changes, as the child becomes more confident and skilled in using the scissors, they will begin to cut out complex designs by combining the skill of moving the paper and turning the scissors at the same time.
Tip – when teaching a child to cut out objects or shapes, if the child is right handed then teach to cut in an anti-clockwise direction and if the child is left handed then teach to cut in a clockwise direction.
At Skybound we focus on developing programmes for families based on the stage of development that each child is at and working towards. Each stage of the programme provides lots of activities to include within therapy and can be integrated within their current programme at home or school. Each programme is monitored through comprehensive data collection to ensure that each of the stages is mastered entirely to ensure success.
By Joanne Harries, Occupational Therapist