Children and Scissors – To Cut or Not To Cut

Working as a paediatric occupational therapist for many years, I am very aware of parents’ reluctance to expose their younger children to using scissors. Children can commence using scissors from approximately 2 ½ years of age, under close supervision.

Cutting is a complex bilateral task that requires many systems to work efficiently together to produce an accurate finished product. To master scissoring, the child must develop skills in eye-hand coordination, fine motor coordination and planning and organization of cutting.

Before cutting skills are acquired, there are activities called “pre-scissor skills” that can facilitate the development of cutting. These activities facilitate the development of hand/finger strength and coordination, which are both necessary for this task. Some ideas for pre-scissor activities include:

  • Playing with water guns and squirt bottles
  • Picking up small objects with large tweezers and tongs
  • Cutting playdough with plastic knives
  • Tearing paper of different thicknesses into little pieces for a collage
  • Clipping clothes pegs of various sizes around the edge of containers
  • Encouraging finger play with songs and rhymes
  • Lacing and threading
  • Opening plastic bottles and food containers
  • Wringing out sponges or cloths
  • Climbing, hanging and swinging from playground equipment

The child will progress along a developmental continuum when learning to cut. This includes

  • Snipping: the child cuts short, random snips around the edge of the paper (2-3 years)
  • Continuous cutting across paper: cuts using a forward motion across the length of the paper (3 years)
  • Cutting along thick, straight lines, gradually moving towards thinner lines as skill increases (3 ½ year old to 4 year old level)


  • Cutting around a large circle, learning to continuously turn the paper as they cut (approximately 4 year old level)
  • Cutting out a square, learning to stop and turn the paper when they reach the corner (approximately 4 ½ year old level)

 cutting 2

  • Cutting out a picture following the general shape (5 year old level)

 cutting 3

  • Cutting around more complex shapes and figures, cutting on solid or dotted lines (5 to 6 year old level)

Tips for Success

  • Choose a ‘doing hand’ (the one that holds the scissors) and a ‘helper hand’ (the one that holds the paper) when learning to cut
  • Ensure your child uses the scissors with their thumb in the small hole and fingers in the larger hole
  • Encourage your child to hold both the scissors and paper with their thumbs up while pointing the scissors forward; use a verbal cue of “Thumbs up” or “Thumbs are boss”
  • Commence cutting using light weight cardboard as it is easier to control
  • Encourage the child to think of scissors as a crocodile taking large snaps at the paper and then moving forward; use a verbal cue of “Crunch, crunch like a crocodile” at a steady pace
  • When the child is learning to cut corners say “Stop, Turn”. The child should use the “helper hand“ to turn the paper and keep the scissors pointing forwards
  • Ensure that the dominant (doing) arm rests against the side of the body to ensure stability
  • Use visual cues to assist cutting by tracing over the lines with a thick red marker pen
  • Commence with thicker lines which are easier to cut along than thinner lines so the child can experience success
  • Left-handed children should be encouraged to cut around shapes in a clockwise direction while right-handed children should cut in an anti-clockwise direction

Warning for Parents –

Beware! Once your child is learning to use scissors, keep them well out of reach when the child is not being supervised. A child can become very proficient at cutting precious items such as photographs, cutting their own hair or their siblings’ hair.

Happy cutting!

Debbie Swain

Occupational Therapist

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