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Scissors Skills for Children

"An environment for creative art work is provided by planning the place and the materials, by teaching simple skills, and by accepting and motivating children."
—Regina Barnett, Let Out the Sunshine, A Montessori Approach to Creative Activities

Child Cutting SpiralWe all know how young children love cutting with scissors, sometimes even cutting hair, clothing, and other important items. That's one of the reasons why, in the Montessori primary classroom, we acquaint young children with the proper use of scissors and help them develop basic cutting skills.

Preparing the Hand

Before using scissors, children need sufficient hand and finger strength. Exercises that help prepare the hand include many Practical Life activities such as pinching clothespins, basting, tonging, and wringing out sponges. Other classroom activities that develop coordination and hand strength include grasping the pieces of the Pink Tower and using the pincer grip to pick up knobbed materials.

Using Scissors: The First Lesson

For the initial presentation, use narrow blank strips of stiff paper ½" wide by 6-8" long. Strips made from cardstock or file cards work well. If the child prefers using her left hand, be sure to offer her left-handed scissors. Present the scissors activities at a table to an individual child.

  1. Demonstrate how to carry and store scissors. Explain that the blades are sharp and great care is needed when cutting.
  2. Demonstrate how to hold the scissors and how to use them to cut the paper strip in one snip.
  3. Continue cutting, allowing the pieces to fall into a basket.
  4. Help the child place her thumb and first two fingers into the handle of the scissors. Encourage her to practice opening and closing the blades.
  5. As she opens the blades, assist by moving the strip of paper between the blades.
  6. As she closes the blades, the scissors cut the strip. Allow the child to hold both the paper strip and the scissors as soon as she wants to.

After children are proficient at cutting cardstock, they may choose lighter-weight paper strips to cut. Regina Barnett suggests giving the child several choices for what to do with the small cut pieces, including taking them home in an envelope. A note to the parents could say, "This was the first time that your child used scissors in the classroom. She cut these small pieces and is very proud of her work."

Many Uses for Cut Paper

The cut pieces could also be recycled, put into a basket for art work (collage), or used for carpet sweeping work. Recently I observed a four-year-old who was completely absorbed in cutting strips of paper. After putting that work away, he took out a rug and sprinkled the cut pieces onto the rug. Then he got out the carpet sweeper and swept up all of the pieces.

Advanced Activities

When children have repeated and mastered cutting a ½" wide strip of paper with one snip, they can move on to more challenging activities to develop and refine their skills. Templates are available to create many of these activities. Children can cut:

  • wider blank strips that require two snips
  • narrow strips with printed lines to cut on: vertical, then diagonal
  • curved lines, such as a half circle, circle, spiral
  • folded paper to make snowflakes, hearts
  • layers of tissue paper
  • patterns for pinwheels, envelopes, Chinese lanterns, cubes(which require cutting, folding, and gluing).

Practical and Artistic Expression

As children develop coordination and skill with scissors, they will experience the satisfaction of mastering an important life skill. They will be able to cut thread and yarn, make booklets, and create cardboard models to illustrate projects. They can also take pleasure in being able to use their scissors skills for artistic expression.

Child Cutting SpiralAs older children explore using scissors to create art, introduce them to books with beautiful cut paper illustrations, such as If You Lived Here: Houses of the World, which has bas-relief cut-paper collage illustrations. Giving Thanks highlights the intricate art of scherenschnitte (scissor cuts) which originated in16th century Switzerland.

Show children examples of cut paper art, such as Henri Matisse's "cut outs." A recent exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City highlighted Matisse's cut outs from the 1940's. Scissors had become his main tool with which to make art.

After Jane Campbell, founder of Montessori Services, viewed this exhibit, she noticed some high-quality child-size scissors in the MOMA gift shop. These German-made scissors have just been added to our catalog. We all know how much children love cutting with scissors. Who knows, maybe there's a budding Matisse in your classroom!

—by Irene Baker, MEd, Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She holds both primary (ages 3-6) and elementary (ages 6-12) Montessori certifications and has taught at all three levels. For over 15 years, she has served as a Montessori teacher-trainer for both primary and elementary levels and has presented workshops for teachers at schools and AMS national conferences. Her work with both students and teachers is infused with the knowledge she has gained from her passions: history, social justice, non-violent (compassionate) communication, nature, meditation, music, and poetry.

—Originally Published 2015

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