Advice Column, Toddler, Toptots

Teaching a toddler how to cut

We are often asked by moms in our classes – “When do I start to teach my toddler to cut?”   Followed by: “How do I do it? Isn’t it dangerous?”  We hope to answer some of your questions here and put your mind at ease.

Cutting is a fine motor skill and hence takes a little longer to develop. Remember we develop from the large muscles to the small muscles and seeing as some of the smallest muscles are in the hands, it takes a toddler at least 2 years before he can start to understand the mechanics behind cutting.  

Cutting helps to develop eye hand coordination – for example holding a piece of paper in one hand and cutting with the other while watching where you are cutting with your eyes.  Bilateral coordination is also developed which is being able to use both sides of the body at the same time in a controlled manner.  Remember it’s not easy to try and cut out a shape, holding onto the piece of paper, turning it as you are cutting and at the same time opening and closing the scissors to perform the task.  

It is also important to discuss the correct scissor grip.  By using the correct scissor grip you can make cutting skills develop more naturally and with less effort, thus making the process more enjoyable. The correct scissor grip for this age group is for the child to place their thumb in the top loop and both their index and middle fingers in the bottom loop.  As they become a little older (approximately 5 years of age) they can change to a more refined grip of having their thumb in the top loop and their middle finger in the bottom loop and their index finger supporting the bottom of the scissors.

So what scissors do you start with? Use toddler safety scissors.  Also make sure that the bottom hole is big enough to fit the two little fingers in. This all helps the toddler gain control over the scissors.  You can also purchase scissors that are designed to be used by left and right handed children.

First step is to show your toddler how to use scissors appropriately and to learn to always put them away after use.  They must be taught the basic safety rules of using a pair of scissors – to never run around with scissors in their hands and that scissors are for cutting paper – nothing else! If these rules are broken, the scissors are to be put away until another time.   All cutting activities must be done under adult supervision at all times.

Exposure to scissors should be between 1.5 and 2 years of age, starting with learning how to open and close the scissors.  At this stage they are not ready to cut up paper.  Show him where to place his fingers and practice opening and closing the scissors. Then give him some play dough that’s been rolled out to cut. No matter the action if he opens and closes the scissors it will cut.  

Once he has mastered the open close action, he now needs to practice snipping. Remember we are not looking for perfection here.   Cut pieces of cardboard into thin pieces and let him snip, snip, snip. Practice makes perfect.  There won’t be any forward movement on the cardboard with the scissors, just small snipping motions.  Only at about 2.5 to 3 years of age will your child start to move the scissors in the forward cutting motion.

Draw some short wide- apart lines on paper.  Show him how to hold the paper with thumbs up.  You can even stick a sticker on each thumb nail so that he knows they have to face up when cutting. He now just snips the lines drawn. Again we are not looking for perfection.  Exposure to cutting is going to help make them master the skill. Just remember that he won’t be able to cut along the drawn lines accurately as he is not quite there developmentally.  Between the ages of 3 and 3.5 years your child will start to use his non dominant hand to help “turn” the paper when cutting and by the time he hits the age of 4 years of age he should be able to cut along a straight line of about 15cms.

Some tips

  • Always start off by cutting play dough
  • Thin card is easier to learn to cut on than paper
  • Take strands of wool, knotted at the top and let your toddler snip them into smaller pieces
  • Cut plastic straws and let her string them afterwards to make a necklace
  • Cutting flower stems and leaves are great fun as well.

Learning to use scissors is a complicated task and this skill wil only improve with lots of practice.  Have patience during the process and your child will eventually master the skill of cutting.

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