When should children learn to use scissors? At what age are they too young? How should I teach my preschooler to use scissors?
If you’ve asked any of these questions, then you’re in the right place. As a preschool teacher who has worked closely with children, 2-5 years old, for over 9 years, I’ve learned a thing or two when it comes to teaching young children how to use scissors. In this blog post, I’m going to share what I’ve learned with you.
Why teach preschoolers how to use scissors?
If you’ve been around early learning and child care settings, you will likely have heard the term “fine motor muscles.” Fine motor muscles are the small muscles in the hands, especially those needed to hold a pencil. A child with strong fine motor muscles has a distinct advantage when it comes to learning to hold a pencil properly for writing. Therefore, we want to provide many opportunities for children to exercise their fine motor muscles. One excellent way to do so is by using scissors.
Added to that, a child who goes into Kindergarten feeling comfortable and moderately capable with scissors will have an advantage during various crafts and activities that require the use of scissors.
Which scissors to start with?
- Entirely plastic safety scissors – These are the type of scissors that can cut playdough, but not much else. Most of them do not work well on paper. Crayola makes my favourite type of these scissors. They come in a set of three. I have no problem leaving these scissors freely at the playdough table for children even as young as 2 years olds. I have seen these available at various stores that also sell Crayola markers and crayons.
- Metal safety scissors – These scissors look like regular adult scissors except that they are smaller and have a rounded point rather than a sharp tip. These sorts of safety scissors are widely available in stores. Note that they are sharp enough to cut various materials and, therefore, require adult supervision.
- Spring safety scissors – These scissors look identical to typical metal safety scissors, except for the addition of a spring. Children with weak fine motor muscles are typically able to close the scissors, but may find it difficult to reopen the scissors without using their second hand to help. Preschools often have a pair or two of these spring scissors. If you are only teaching one or two children how to use scissors, buying these special spring scissors typically is not needed. If your child struggles to open the scissors at first, don’t be worried. Simply keep practicing with the scissors and providing other fine motor exercises to strengthen their muscles.
Going forward in this article, I will be referring to the second (and/or third) type of scissors, but not the first entirely plastic ones.
When to teach preschoolers how to use scissors?
If you asked me to pinpoint an age when most children are ready to begin using scissors, I would say 2.5 years old. However, I say that cautiously. Having worked with countless children, I have noticed that some children are very impulsive and unaware of what they are doing with their hands. These children may not be ready to begin using scissors until they have matured more as scissors can be dangerous when not handled well.
Also, only bring out the scissors during calmer parts of the day. If you have multiple children around, you do not want the others running nearby while scissors are being used.
How to teach preschoolers to use scissors?
Before I tell you how to teach your preschooler to use scissors, a word of caution. Scissors are dangerous. Children, and those instructing them, must treat scissors with a degree of respect.
- If your child has never watched someone use scissors before, take a moment to grab a piece of paper and a pair of scissors and show them how to cut.
- Thumbs up
- Although this may feel awkward for your child at first, the proper posture when using scissors is to have thumbs up. By that, I mean that the hand holding the scissors has the thumb on the top and the fingers on the bottom when cutting. Similarly, the hand holding the paper, which I like to call the “helper hand”, should have the thumb on top of the paper and the fingers underneath. For many children, this takes practice and several gentle reminders.
- Again, scissors are dangerous – to you, your child, and to the environment around them. Be intentional to tell your child that scissors are only for paper. A child left unsupervised with scissors is prone to cutting something that shouldn’t be cut, whether the tablecloth, their clothing, the nearest ribbon, etc. This is also the age for self-haircuts. Nearly every year one of my children shows up one day with a very short haircut accompanied by their parent’s explanation that the child gave themselves a haircut. Therefore, I repeat, keep an eye on your child when they are using scissors.
Techniques for teaching children to use scissors
1. Hand-over-hand – this technique I recommend for the first few times your child uses scissors, especially if they are younger than 4 years old. For some children, only one time of hand-over-hand is needed. For other children, I would use hand-over-hand for several months before trusting them to use scissors on their own.
- The hand-over-hand technique is exactly what it sounds like. I put my right hand over the child’s right hand and my left hand over their left hand. I find this works best if I sit on a low seat and have the child stand in front of me. In this way, I am more or less providing training wheels for the child as they learn to use scissors. While using the hand-over-hand technique, I help the children make crafts.
2. Free cutting – Some children are able to skip the hand-over-hand technique and move right to this one. Some teachers start all their children with this technique.
- Collect a pile of papers, flyers you are planning to recycle work well. Have the child sit at a table. Give them a pair of scissors and several pieces of paper. Allow them to freely cut the paper however they wish. Many children will end up cutting the paper into itsy bitsy bits. That’s just fine. The goal of this technique is to give the children space to build the fine motor muscles needed to use scissors and to become comfortable using scissors on their own.
3. Following a line – Some children will be more engaged with their scissors if they are making something. There are various ways to give them an opportunity to do this, even when they are just starting out with scissors. I will list a few below.
Ways to incorporate scissor practice into a craft
- Choose a colouring sheet that matches your theme, draw a line around the image on the colouring sheet. Be sure the line is distinct from the lines of the image, perhaps by being a different colour. Have the child cut along the line. Then allow the child to colour, paint, or otherwise decorate the picture.
- If your craft includes several parts that you would typically cut beforehand and then give to the child to glue together, consider allowing your child to cut out one of the bigger pieces. For beginner cutters, it should be no smaller than a quarter of a sheet of paper. Once they have cut it out, have them proceed with the craft as usual.
- Let the child cut something to glue on. For example, if you’re talking about food, you could give your child a grocery store flyer and encourage them to cut out various food items and glue them on a piece of paper. Alternatively, let them cut a piece of paper into itsy bitsy bits and then glue the paper onto a picture to make a flower, etc.
- Round lines are harder than straight lines
- If your child gets distracted while holding scissors, gently remind them to look at their scissors when they are cutting.
- Teach children that their helper hand is the one that should be turning the paper to follow the line. Their scissor hand should stay mostly straight in front of them rather than turning with the line.
- Slightly thicker paper is often easier for children at first.
- Teach the child, perhaps by modelling it, that when they are following a line and go off track, they need to stop and cut towards the line to get back on track.
What are some of your favourite scissor activities for your child?
Free Printables –
With all of the Covid-19 restrictions, you may be finding yourself in need of new, easy activities for your youngster. Here are three sites with free printable resources that I recommend.
(Note: None of the links below are affiliate links. I am recommending these websites because I have found them to be valuable resources in the past. I have no control over these websites, nor am I connected to them in any way.)
While there are many free colouring page websites out there, my go-to is Super Coloring. I especially enjoy their realistic animal colouring sheets. Sometimes I print their pictures for my preschool class to colour. At other times, I use the pictures to make visuals for circle time. They have just about everything from dinosaurs to flowers and from insects to world maps. If you’re looking for something more academically based, they even have colouring sheets for letters A-Z.
Teaching 2 And 3 Year Olds is a website full of free resources, including free printable activities or other creative play ideas. Many of the posts include tips and mention the developmental benefits of each activity. Activities on this site are often sorted by theme.
Have you read the Beginner’s Bible with your children? Did you know that there are free printable colouring sheets and activity sheets that go with it? With the same illustrations and pictures as found in the picture Bible, your youngsters might enjoy this extension to their learning.
Looking for more? Check out some of the ideas I’ve collected on Pinterest:
S. J. Little’s Preschool Posts: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/s-j-littles-preschool-posts
Ideas to Try: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/ideas-to-try
Keeping Toddler Busy: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/keeping-toddler-busy
Make Your Own Toys: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/make-your-own-toys
Free Preschool Teacher Tools: www.pinterest.ca/sjlittleauthor/free-preschool-teacher-tools
What are your go-to websites for free printable preschool/toddler activities?
Why do I sometimes give preschoolers stickers for craft time? Am I being lazy? No. When used intentionally, stickers provide multiple benefits for preschoolers.
Benefits of giving preschoolers stickers
- Before they can effectively hold a pencil, a child needs to strengthen their fine motor muscles and hand-eye coordination.
- Simply put, fine motor muscles are the small muscles in the hands. These muscles are used to do fine detail tasks such as holding a pencil, picking up a spoon, and putting beads on a string, among countless other tasks. When a child strengthens these muscles in their pre-writing years, they have an advantage when it comes time to learn to write. Peeling stickers and putting them on paper, exercises those fine motor muscles.
- Hand-eye coordination is another super valuable skill for preschoolers to develop. In basic terms, it is getting one’s hand to go where one wants it to go. Activities such as feeding oneself with a spoon, writing letters, and giving high fives require good hand-eye coordination. Coordinating hands to peel the stickers and then placing the stickers where they want on the paper, are great ways to practice using hand-eye coordination.
- In our fast-paced world, teaching a child to sit down and focus on one task for a length of time can be challenging. Stickers, I have found, can bring surprising results in this regard. Some children, though not all, are willing to sit down and work hard on peeling those stickers for longer than they would typically sit. Please don’t get me wrong with this one. Yes, we want children to be up and moving, engaged in active play, but it is also important for them to be developing their attention span. Having a longer attention span can enable them to get deeper into play rather than bouncing from one toy to the next.
- Most children enjoy stickers. As a teacher, I have a few children who do not enjoy craft time. Stickers might grab the interest of a child who typically dislikes crafts and help them begin to realize that sitting down to do crafts can be fun.
Tips for a smoother sticker time
- Cut the sheet of stickers into strips
- Rather than handing a full sheet of stickers to a child, cut the sheet into strips. For really small stickers I find 6 or 7 stickers per strip is a good number as the paper is then big enough for the child to hold. For bigger stickers, I often cut them into groups of two or three. Giving the child only one of these strips of stickers at a time helps keep them focused and motivated as it isn’t an overwhelming number of stickers and there are fewer stickers to choose from at a time.
- Remove sticker blank areas
- I recently discovered that removing the blank areas around the actual stickers makes it far easier for little hands to peel the stickers. (See picture.)
- Teach children to bend the paper
- Some children need me to teach them how to get the stickers. I show them that bending the paper causes the sticker to lift up for easy removal. (See picture.)
- Avoid “thin papery” stickers
- Beware of thin papery stickers as they may rip easily when being peeled from the paper, making the activity difficult and discouraging for children.
- Mess-free craft
- This is an excellent craft for picture day. When all my children are dressed in their finest outfits, and feeling fidgety due to the special day, stickers are my go-to. They won’t stain fancy clothes and the children are excited to use them.
What are your tips for giving preschoolers stickers for craft time? Do you see other benefits of using them?
13 Simple and Inexpensive Ways to Engage Children with Paint and Paper
Perhaps you have some washable paint laying around, but want to change things up. There are many fun alternatives to paintbrushes. Several of them have valuable developmental bonuses for your child beyond merely strengthening creativity.
Basic tools to use instead of paintbrushes:
Fingers (All ages)
- Messy and delightful for most children, simply allowing your child the freedom to finger paint is an excellent sensory experience.
- Some children dislike the sensation of paint on their fingers. If that is your child, try modelling by doing some finger painting of your own. Reassure them that you’ll help them wash their hands after. If they still resist, don’t push them. Rather, work your way toward it by giving them tools such as sponges where their fingers will likely get a little paint on them, but not as much as with finger painting.
Sponges (All ages)
- A straightforward painting experience. Gives the child an opportunity to experiment with gentle and firm pressure.
- Take an unused sponge and cut it into easy to hold sizes. Rectangles, roughly 8cm tall and 4cm by 4cm on the ends, work well for small hands. Alternatively, if you want to get really creative, you can cut the sponge into shapes such as trees, hearts, or fish.
- Expect sponge painting to be messy. Only put small amounts of paint for the child to dip the sponge in, as they can easily get an excessive amount of paint.
- Sponge painting works well with stencils.
Cotton swabs/Q-tips® (2.5 years+)
- A personal favourite of mine. The small size of cotton swabs helps exercise the child’s fine motor muscles – the hand muscles used for holding a pencil among many other things. Cotton swabs allow the children to paint dots or small lines – far more detailed than most kids’ paintbrushes. I find the Q-tips® brand works well.
- Some 2 year olds may find cotton swabs too small to grasp easily and thus may not enjoy using them. Therefore, I recommend them for children 2.5 years old and up.
- Because cotton swabs are small, it takes more time for the child to fill the page, which encourages them to focus longer than with a large paintbrush. With this in mind, it may be wise to use only half a sheet of paper when working with cotton swabs to make filling the page more attainable.
- Depending on the child, painting with cotton swabs can be relatively clean.
Yarn (2.5 years+)
- Children can create beautiful works of modern art when painting with a short piece of yarn, and they enjoy doing it. While they’re at it, they will be strengthening their arm muscles by the abundance of up and down and side to side movements.
- Cut yarn into pieces roughly 8cm in length. I like to have one piece of yarn per colour of paint. Inevitably a few strings will be dropped into the paint leaving them entirely paint saturated. Therefore, I try to have extra strings cut and ready to use for such emergencies.
- I recommend using a shallow dish to hold the paint for easy dipping. To start, it may help to use a finger to submerge one end of the yarn into the paint.
- This yarn painting can get messy. The finished products, however, typically look attractive.
Fork (3.5 years+)
- For a unique challenge, hand the child a plastic fork and a shallow dish of paint. Fun picture ideas could be a flower, a chick, or grass. This experience strengthens hand-eye coordination. Problem-solving is also required if trying to paint a specific object.
- Keeping the paper small is advised as children may not have the attention span needed to fill a whole page.
Toothbrush (4 years+)
- Want a major fine motor muscle strengthener? Bring out the toothbrush and prepare for a fun, messy time!
- Toothbrush painting only takes a small amount of paint, but it may be helpful to add a drop of water to the paint. Cover the table and surrounding area or be prepared to wipe it as it will get messy.
- Encourage the child to hold the toothbrush with its bristles facing the paper. Show them how to run their thumb (or finger from the other hand) through the bristles causing the brush to spray droplets of paint onto the paper.
- Expect most children to have a short attention span for this activity as their hand muscles will likely tire quickly – evidence that it is good exercise for those fine motor muscles.
Things to dip in paint:
Be aware that toys with metal parts may rust if exposed to water when cleaning paint off of them. Also, it may not be possible to get all the paint off whatever items you use, therefore, pick carefully.
Jar/bottle lids (2.5 years+)
- Wash and save various bottle and jar lids, then pour paint on a plate and let your child use the lids as stamps. They might make a snowman, a flower, or a lovely modern art pattern. Their fine motor muscles will be strengthened by the various grips required to hold the lids.
- If your child is prone to putting items in his/her mouth, beware that small lids may be choking hazards.
- This can get messy and lids can become slippery when paint-covered and thus may fall on the floor. Therefore, if you are working over carpet you may want to cover the floor.
Dinosaurs (2 years+)
- Choose some large washable dinosaurs (the smoother their skin the easier to clean – avoid those with metal). Encourage your child to “walk” the dinosaurs through a plate of paint and across their paper leaving dinosaur footprints. The dinosaurs have a fair amount of weight which, combined with all those up and down movements, will strengthen important arm muscles.
- Children love this activity! However, I caution against using this “dip your toys in paint” idea with young children who do not yet grasp the concept that only certain toys are okay in paint at certain times. The last thing we want is their teddy doing a faceplant in the paint dish.
Cars (2 years+)
- If you have some primarily plastic cars with no internal mechanisms which may be damaged by water, this activity can be tremendously thrilling! What’s the developmental value of it? If you give the child an extra large piece of paper to drive their car across, they will likely make many large, full-arm movements using muscles needed for writing. These types of large arm movements are especially important for development in 2-3 year olds.
- Pour the paint onto a plate and encourage the children to drive the cars back and forth in the paint to coat the wheels before driving the cars around on the paper.
- If you have the option, this is a good activity to cover the entire table with paper for the cars to leave tracks on.
- As with the dinosaurs above, I caution against doing this with young children who may not yet realize that this does not give them permission to drive the cars through any other sticky paste they can find.
Changing up the paper is another way to keep painting fresh and exciting.
- Change up the size of paper you give your child.
- If they are painting with something small, have only a short amount of time, or have a short attention span, use a small piece of paper.
- If they enjoy painting, have plenty of time, or are using a large tool, use a full-size piece of paper.
- Using bigger papers can encourage healthy arm muscle development as they reach to paint on the far edge of the paper.
- Change up the size of paper you give your child.
- Before it’s time to paint, cut the paper into a simple shape such as a triangle, heart, circle, or fish. Then allow the child to paint however they want.
- On occasion, covering the whole table with paper and allowing several children to paint on it at once can be a fun change. The children often enjoy being able to paint long lines without running into the edge of the paper. On top of that, having several children painting on the same surface gives a social development aspect to painting.
- Some painting techniques work well on colouring pages. Younger children could use sponges, while older children could use cotton swabs which allow them to paint inside the lines.
Have fun painting!
What are your favourite paintbrush alternatives for preschool painting?