Handwriting seems like first important fine motor skill a child learns. Maybe not. There is a reason that every preschool fine motor evaluation includes the ability to use a scissor. This skill is indicative of a wide range of visual-motor milestones. The list starts with the ability to move both hands effectively while centered around an imaginary body midline, and progresses all the way up to the ability to carefully grade control of the finger tips to cut accurately around a shape. Most occupational therapists want to see kindergarteners cut around a simple geometric shape within at least 1/4 inch of a thick border. Here are some suggestions to achieve that goal while having fun:
- Start early. Early exposure supports excitement at an age where children want to develop “grown-up” skills. I see similar missed opportunities with children who resist learning to use utensils at meals. Kids who are fed by adults well into their 2’s can be averse to using utensils once that early phase of ambition ends. Remember how you would go on any errand when you first got your driver’s license? Do you feel the same way now? Not likely. Getting the chance to use scissors seems so exciting to young children that they are willing to tolerate the inevitable frustration and need to refine their control.
- Use the Lakeshore safety scissors or another totally safe pair, and then get out some sturdy scrap paper. I wrote a blog post this summer on Lakeshore’s terrific scissors that only cut paper, not skin, hair or clothes Lakeshore Scissors for Toddlers That Only Cut the Paper, Not the Toddler. Use slightly stiff but not rigid paper for children who are just learning to cut. Older preschoolers can hack through paper plates and gently trim napkins, but younger children need paper that won’t crumble or tear too easily while still being easy to snip.
- Encourage cutting and explain how grown-ups manage to cut around complex shapes. Not because a 2-year-old is going to make a paper doll chain today, but it shows that you value this skill, you know that it is a skill and not a predetermined gift, and that you enjoy cutting games too. Make scissor play brief, and maybe bring out some glue sticks and other decorative items to create wonderful imaginative things. Your child will have no awareness that they are checking off one box after another on the preschool developmental skills list.