Showing Toddlers How to Use Scissors

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One of the lessons I was really excited to share with the children at our summer co-op was "Cutting Snippets" (probably because it was the first time I would be working with Hunter on that skill, one I had been meaning to work on for a while). That's the name of the lesson in my Montessori training course, but basically it's showing a young child how to cut with scissors.

Here's how to go about it:

1. Purchase an appropriate pair of scissors. In the co-op, we had two children who were left-handed and the rest were right-handed. I did some research and found out that providing left-handed children with truly left-handed scissors really does make a huge difference, so I went ahead and purchased this pair and this pair. The tip is blunt for safety, but the blade is sharp. These are appropriately-sized for very young children, but they are real scissors. They cut paper, hair, and skin. (Hunter recently snipped a little skin on his finger. He cried, but kept cutting!) Some children's scissors claim to only cut paper, but these scissors can be frustrating for children because unless you hold the paper just right, the scissors won't cut at all. 

2. Prepare material to be cut. The material you offer the child is actually very important. Often, some of the first things you see children cutting in preschool is along the dotted line of a figure or picture. Children definitely need to practice this kind of cutting, but when first showing how to cut with scissors, you want to offer baby steps, just the basics. Prepare long, thin strips of card stock or thick construction paper instead of a sheet of paper. With strips of paper, the child doesn't have to keep opening and closing the scissors to accomplish his goal (cutting out a figure). Instead, he can just snip once, and a piece of the strip is cut! (That's why they're called snippets.)

3. Gather all the materials on a tray or in a basket and set on a shelf that is accessible to the child. Children need lots of practice with this skill, so they need to be able to reach for it whenever they want. Also, gathering all the materials on a tray or basket will help keep the child organized. For a tray, I bought this lovely appetizer dish made of acacia wood. Inside I set the pair of scissors and a little box for the snippets. On the shelf next to the tray, I placed the strips of paper on a business-card holder.

4. Give a demonstration. Place two strips of paper on the tray and invite the child to take the tray to a table, desk, or other work area. Sit to the right of the child. Take one strip and the box out of the tray, and set aside. If you're right-handed, with your left hand, take the closed blades of the scissors, and slowly show how you take the handle with your right hand, placing your fingers in the loops in the way that is most comfortable for you. Once the scissors are in hand, open and close the blade several times. Move on to the demonstration if the child is older and ready to cut! For a younger child, set the scissors back in the tray and invite him to hold the scissors and "explore" a bit. To demonstrate, cut one full strip of snippets by moving the hand that holds the strip of paper, allowing each snippet to fall into the tray. (If the child grows impatient, cut half the strip, and invite him to finish.) Show him how to place the snippets in the little box and explain that you can use them later to create a collage. Finally, invite the child to cut as many strips as he would like. 

5. Invite the child to practice, practice, practice! At this point, it is not necessary to try to correct the way the child holds the scissors. It is important to let him try to hold it many different ways until he finds what is comfortable and what works best for him. The first time I showed Hunter, he used both his left hand (shown in the photo at the top of this post) and his right hand, even though he is right-handed. He tried with two fingers, then three fingers, with his index finger out of the loop, and with his index finger in the loop (see below). Only if he is really frustrated might I suggest he switch to his right hand or use more fingers. 

Following steps: As the child becomes more confident cutting the snippets, you can prepare more challenging strips of paper. Invite the child to cut along lines, crescents, chevrons, etc.

UPDATE June 11, 2016: Hunter has not picked up this activity in a long time, so to encourage more practice, I introduced cutting along a straight diagonal line. I found free printable strips here. See example "official" Montessori strips here, Also, don't forget to use the snippets to make a collage!

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