A Cut above the Rest

by Dana Smith Bader
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My children and I spent a lot of time cutting when they were young. Their favorite activity was to roll out long snakes of playdough and then use their safety scissors to snip small bits of playdough that they would later roll and wrap in gift paper and tie off with small rubber bands to sell as sweets in their role play sweet shop. They also cut lots of scraps of paper. I would draw small straight and wiggly lines on leftover scraps of paper from around the house and store them all in a plastic box for quiet moments of cutting fun. Those quiet moments were a God send because I often managed to get dinner cooked or some papers graded or a lesson planned while my children cut merrily away.

Surprisingly, my children never cut their hair, nor did they cut each other’s hair. They also did not run wildly through the house with scissors, cut off a finger, or poke one another in the eye with their safety scissors. In fact, none of my children ever had a safety incident with scissors. Once we talked about how to handle the scissors and what not to do with the scissors, my children actually listened and decided it was better to have fun with the scissors safely than have them taken away until they were older and more responsible.

As my children cut bits and pieces of paper in their early years, they built fine motor strength, as well as other essential skills. They developed better eye-hand coordination, and increased their bilateral coordination, which is the ability to use both sides of their body at the same time in a controlled manner. They also improved their focus and attention and steadily developed their cutting skills until they were able to cut more complex shapes around the age of 5 or 6 years. They started learning how to hold scissors at about 1 and ½ years, and sometimes they used both hands to open and close the blades. Between the ages of 2 and 3 years they started cutting small snips of paper and eventually moved on to cutting along straight and wiggly lines. By the time they were 3 and ½ years old they were able to use their “helping hand” to hold the paper and help manipulate it while cutting with their dominant hand. By 4 years they were able to cut along a curved line and then they moved on to cutting shapes.

To help them develop these skills, we regularly visited the internet for ideas. In addition to the sweet shop roll play, my children enjoyed cutting colored straws into different lengths, making a lion with a furry mane out of a paper plate snipped all around the edges, and playing hair salon with old dolls that needed a haircut or with playdough stuck to bald baby doll heads. Of course, we also continued to fill their cutting box with all sorts of things to cut and made sure to include visually stimulating paper like aluminium foil, baking paper, plastic bags, gift wrap paper, yarn, and straws, as well as paper of different thicknesses to build their fine motor strength, such as card paper, card board, and even stabled booklets of scrap paper. We tried to stay away from cutting worksheets, so that we could be more creative and imaginative, but every once in a while we would do a cutting worksheet to test specific skills.

With so much practice cutting, my children were able to hold a pencil with a correct grip at around 2 and ½ years of age. Their ability to cut contributed significantly to their ability to write. More important, rather than spend time practicing “writing,” they worked independently on cutting skills and achieved the same outcome with a lot more fun. Eventually, we spent time practicing writing with our “writing box,” but that was later when they had the fine motor skills to enable them to write with ease.

Looking back, putting a cutting box together and teaching my children scissor skills at a young age were two of the best things I gave my children. They learned to “play” independently, and they developed essential skills. More important, they gained confidence in their ability to work on tasks without my constant input or guidance, and they had a lot of fun finding things to cut and shape with their scissors. Hands down, teaching scissor skills is a cut above the rest of the activities you can do with your children.

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