Learning to Use Scissors

Why is my child having trouble with using scissors?

When looking at our child’s skills, we will commonly be puzzled to why they are having so much trouble completing a task that we take for granted. The role of an occupational therapist is to break down the smaller steps that are required for your child to be successful in completing a skill such as using scissors.

The ability to effectively use scissors it is actually really complicated and requires a huge number of smaller skills to be developed first. These skills include (but are not limited to):

  • Core strength/postural stability
  • Shoulder strength and stability
  • Wrist strength and stability
  • Bilateral coordination skills (using two sides of the body together)
  • Finger isolation skills
  • Hand and finger strength
  • Visual motor integration skills (e.g. controlling a pencil to create legible writing)

Whilst children are supported within the school environment to help promote the development of their scissor skills, some children can often benefit from additional external support.

Is there anything I can do at home to support?

The completion of cutting activities in the home is important in order to build a child’s scissor skills. It is however very important to target the foundational skills required in order to effectively use scissors, as these skills are also crucial for completion of other refined fine motor tasks such as handwriting.

Activities that target core and shoulder strength/stability:

  • Wheelbarrow races
  • Animal walk races (e.g. crab walks)
  • Playing ‘Twister’
  • Playing ‘Tug of War’
  • Painting/drawing on vertical surfaces (e.g. drawing with chalk on bricks)

Activities that promote wrist strength/stability:

  • Helping in the kitchen or playing with playdough (kneading, using cookie cutters and using a rolling pin)
  • Using stamps (e.g. pressing stamps into ink pads, then onto paper).
  • Hammering games.

Bilateral coordination skills

  • Making jewellery
  • Folding activities (e.g. origami)

Finger isolation skills

  • Playing with tweezers/small tongs
  • Finger twister
  • Finger puppets
  • Squeezing squirt toys during bath play (with the thumb, index and middle finger)

Hand and finger strengthening activities:

  • Engaging in craft activities (e.g. use of sticky tape, hole punctures, staplers and opening containers or twist top jars, eye droppers or squeezing paint filled sponges)
  • Playing with play dough
  • Helping around the home (e.g. using trigger spray bottles to water plants, using pegs to help hang out the washing)
  • Playing in the bath/shower (e.g. squeezing toys that spray water and squeezing/rinsing water from flannels)

Visual motor integration skills:

  • Tracing activities
  • Dot to dots
  • Mazes

How can an occupational therapist support these skills?

It is common that families and teachers will identify concerns with regards to a child’s scissor grasp. Occupational therapists are trained to analyse your child’s current skills and difficulties to identify smaller goals your child will need to achieve as stepping stones towards achieving a larger goal, such as a functional scissor grasp and age appropriate scissor skills. As every child is different, the skills that one child needs support in, is likely to be different to another child. Hence a thorough assessment is always the place to start. Supports for working towards age appropriate scissor skills may include, but are not limited to:

  • Identifying if any of the above skills are lacking through the assessment process
  • Developing skills through fun and creative activities
  • Supporting parents to develop their child’s skills at home, school and in the community

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