Cutting Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

Do you let your toddler or preschooler use scissors? Do they only do ‘cutting’ with help or do you let them practise independently?

When she turned two*, I bought Immy a pair of children’s scissors (they are Crayola First Scissors). At first we only used them sporadically, as I had put them away and only thought to get them out every now and then, and always with supervision. But two months ago (she is now a month off three) I put the scissors out (and left them out) with a pile of paper and light card from our recycling (junk mail, magazines, old birthday/Christmas cards) and was surprised how quickly she has developed good independent control over her scissors thanks to having such easy, regular access to these materials. Mostly each page is just cut randomly in half as this practice has been more about learning to hold the scissors correctly, using her fingers to open and close the blades, moving her hand forward as she cuts through the paper, and knowing how to use the other hand to support the paper, without inadvertently cutting any fingers! When you really break it down, there is a lot to learning to use scissors and it is no wonder that children need lots of regular opportunities to practice.

This week when Immy asked me to help her make some bags from paper, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to introduce the idea of cutting on a line. As I taped together the body of the bag, Immy was in charge of cutting the handles (strips of paper). I simply drew a line across the page with a felt tipped pen and encouraged her to try to cut on the line by lining up the blades of the scissors with the line I had drawn.  For a first go, Immy did really well.

Mouse's library bag

Obviously when it comes to using scissors, it is best to give toddlers and preschoolers some boundaries. Immy knows that she is only allowed to cut paper and if she is not sure whether she is allowed to cut something, she should always ask first. Which worked really well this week when she came to ask me if she could shear her toy sheep with her scissors! She has also been taught how to carry scissors when walking with them, though I try to discourage her moving around the house with them by having a dedicated space for the scissors and paper, which is within easy sight of our kitchen/living area so that I know when she is cutting and can keep an eye on her.

Cuddles' party bag

If you are just starting out with scissors, my recommendation would be;

  • Start with lots of supervised opportunities to cut.  Show your child how to hold the scissors correctly and how to open and close the blades by moving their fingers.  Initially,  just work on one snip through a strip of paper that you hold taut.
  • Once your child can hold the scissors and manipulate them relatively independently, provide lots sheets of scrap paper for them to cut across.  Lightweight card and craft foam also work well as the heavier weight keeps the cutting surface flat.
  • Don’t have any expectations of these first cutting experiences. It is not about making a craft masterpiece, it is about the experience of learning how to use scissors.
  • Cutting along a straight line is the next step but children need lots of experience cutting before you should expect them to attempt this task.
  • Cutting along a gently curved line will follow.  And then, eventually, cutting around large closed shapes.
  • Give your child lots and lots of opportunity to practice each of these stages.  Don’t push them beyond what they are capable of and once they lose interest, leave cutting for another time.

Do you let your toddler or preschooler use scissors? Do they only do ‘cutting’ with help or do you let them practise independently?

*It is important that children demonstrate hand preference before introducing scissors.

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  1. Margaret Elvis says:

    You have explained young children beginning to use scissors just so well….they are one implement that can be dangerous and Immy certainly seems to have already mastered their use.

  2. and if they havent established if they are a leftie or righty. My little guy (3 and a half, alternates with l and r hand and tends to hold the scissors upside down if that makes sense eg when scissors in r hand will turn his thumb down rather than thumb up position despite modelling and guidance and (gentle) correction. Cant get the hang of open shut then (I think as his thumb not in right position). Any other tips apart from more of the above? Or just waiting it out until has one hand dominant. (PS His daddy still does some things left/some right at 37 so it may be a long wait)

    • I think I would probably just keep giving him activities to do which encourage him to choose – mixing with a spoon in a bowl, spreading butter on bread, etc. When it comes to him using scissors when crafting, why not draw or stick a little star on the bottom half of his thumb (away from the fingernail) and remind him that he needs to be able to see the star to cut

  3. Dr. Confused says:

    I gave scissors to my then-two-year-old and we played with them that day, but since then they’ve been left with her crayons and she has no interest in using them. She turned three about a month ago.

    She also hasn’t developed hand preference. I bought her lefty scissors because at the time I was leaning towards thinking she’s a lefty, but since then I’ve seen her use either hand when using crayons, forks, etc., so it doesn’t seem to be well-established. Her motor skills, especially fine motor skills, seem somewhat low for her age.

    • As I noted in the comment above, I think it is important to keep giving your daughter a range of opportunities which encourage her to choose a preference. Also, if you are concerned about her fine motor skills, lots and lots of varied practise helps. I wrote a guest post over at SquiggleMum with a list of ideas – Other ideas include – lots and lots of playdough and modelling clay which is also great for strengthening hands, threading with beads, pasta, cheerios (basically anything with a hole in the middle!), stamping with small stamps and sticking stickers into the correct position in sticker books.

      • Dr. Confused says:

        Thanks for the comment. I hadn’t seen the squigglemum post, it looks great. I’ll see which of those holds the most interest for my daughter.

        Is there anywhere online where we can find developmental milestones for fine motor skills? I said I thought they were low, but honestly I’m not sure. There’s tons out there on social, verbal, and literacy milestones, and even gross motor, but less on fine motor skills. I don’t know very many kids her age so I’m relying on facebook bragging to determine where she stands.

  4. My daughter took a while to feel comfortable with scissors. Certainly she had not mastered them by 3, but now at 4.5 she seems to have caught up. She uses both hands and has been a little delayed with her fine motor development compared with her peers. The tripod pencil grip took longer than anticipated too. For a long time she would avoid the scissors, but she has always done a lot of playdough and drawing on vertical surfaces, etc. But she still uses both hands for drawing and scissors. Interesting.

  5. We got out our scissors today for our 2.5 year old. She has just become interested after a few failed attempts and has been cutting up a storm all afternoon. She holds them in her hand properly but then turns them upside down when she starts cutting. A little unorthodox but it works for her.

  6. My big girl is 3, but the scissors can’t be left out as her younger sister (18mo) is not quite ready for free access to scissors! But thanks for the reminder, Christie – I must remember to get the scissors out more frequently for practice.

  7. I tried once with my 29-month old and she just didn’t have the hand-strength yet to do it. My intention is to try every couple weeks until she gets the hang of it.

    Thanks for a great post!

  8. LOVE your posts!
    you have an award:

    happy day!

  9. I have been nervous about having JDaniel use scissors. Maybe it is time I give him a chance.

  10. i adore her library bag. my quinn is very into creating things with just paper, tape, and scissors. i have seen crowns, apple trees, even a city taped to my wall. good fun.

  11. My youngest has been a huge fan of scissors since she was around 2 1/2. She’s 4 1/2 now and seems to just love the action of snipping. If you are looking for more of a ‘craft’ activity based on scissor skills, we like making Chinese-style lanterns. They’re easy to make and good when you have a range of children crafting together. We also like saving all our snippings and using them when we make collages. Not that snipping isn’t worthwhile on it’s own, but we always like to recycle when we can. Here’s some lanterns we made:

  12. From my experience introducing scissors to toddlers and preschoolers, here’s my two cents: offer quality scissors with metal blades (I use Fiscars) since dull blades just lead to frustration…as long as scissor use is ALWAYS supervised as described in this post! Stiff papers such as card stock, as opposed to flimsy ones are best for practicing in the early stages. Lastly, a great (and fun!) way to work on mastering the basic operation of the scissors is to work on snipping items that can be cut in two with one snip (like the strips of paper suggested above), but you can try items like cooked spaghetti (al dente), or drinking straws too. There’s a great feeling of satisfaction from snipping through these items succesfully, and it’s easier to accomplish at first.

  13. Great post…I’ve heard from a number of early childhood classroom teachers that fine motor skills are a real issue.

    I was kind of nervous with my first but she started to cut paper at three and it is one of her favorite independent activities, now. She’s gotten quite good at cutting on lines and cutting out circles, squares, etc. at age 4.

    My son saw her cutting and demanded to do the same. We gave him a pair of sewing scissors at age 2 and he loves to do it.

  14. anonymous says:

    just wanted to let you know about a typo…
    you need to hold the paper “taut”, not “taught”


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