Many of our kindergarten students don’t come to us with good cutting skills. It can feel like a complex skill for young children. They may struggle with aspects like hand strength or cutting quickly and accurately. Maybe they simply just don't know where to start with scissors. This can turn into growing frustration. Sometimes maybe even an unwillingness to complete the task. As teachers, it is important for us to know how to improve cutting skills with our students so that they don’t become frustrated. With years of experience, I've learned there are a variety of fun activities to help to build this important skill. I've narrowed it down to just four ways to improve cutting skills that are sure to increase your students' confidence and abilities with scissors in no time!
#1 Teach Explicit Lessons on How to Use Scissors
When students don’t know how to use scissors, it is an important part of our job to teach them how. First I'd like to recommend having explicit, whole-group lessons at the beginning of the year. It may start as thorough as showing them which fingers go into which parts of the scissors. You may have to manually help with the child’s hand position by placing their thumb through the thumb hole. Then place their index finger through the other. Once they’ve learned the right position for them, they can then work on building their finger strength.
Talk about the motion that their hands need to make the scissors cut in zig zags and straight lines. Demonstrate how to hold the paper with their non-dominate hand so that they have more control over where they are cutting. This time may also be a good time to talk about ways we do not use scissors, such as cutting hair, clothing, or pencils. Record it all on an anchor chart with pictures of what you talked about. You and the students can refer back to these charts when they are struggling with their cutting skills. This is always a fun way to recap the day or week's lesson. Doing this together as a group, too, is a great way to show the other young kids that they may not be the only ones still struggling to learn. Continue these lessons, as needed, to show students how to use scissors correctly.
#2 Give Plenty of Opportunities to Practice Cutting
People always love to use the saying ‘practice makes perfect'—and cutting is no exception to this rule. There are so many ways that students can practice using scissors. And they do need those opportunities in order to improve their cutting skills. The development of scissors skills can start with the simple act of cutting a basic piece of paper, construction paper, and then later on smaller things like an index card. Then, later, maybe even on a paper plate for a craft. After this basic part is nailed down, further practice can be based in crafts or simple worksheets. They will be cutting seamlessly on a variety of materials in no time.
For students struggling with scissor use, it can be really beneficial to utilize tasks where the only goal for students is to make a cut from point a to point b. Regardless of what type of activities you choose, just make sure that students are given plenty of opportunities to practice. Putting into action simple tips like this can go a long way!
Cutting practice doesn’t have to feel like a drill for students. In fact, it would be more helpful for students who are struggling with their cutting skills if it did not. Try to keep scissor practice fun and lighthearted through crafts and projects that don’t require as much precision. Especially try this in the beginning of the year. If younger children are having fun, they are less likely to feel frustrated and more likely to keep working through the task. They'll be making those hand muscles stronger in no time and not even realize it.
This can also be said for other school activities in general as well—and I do say this often. The best place to foster a love for learning is right in your very classroom. You can do this by making each lesson enjoyable and/or fun for everyone. There’s really no better way to learn than when you’re having so much fun!
#4 Include Other Fine Motor Activities
Another way to improve cutting skills is by forgetting about scissors altogether! This may sound counterintuitive, but consider that the reason some students struggle with cutting. This can be because they don’t have their fine motor skills and muscles built up enough to use scissors effectively. It's easy to forget as adults that something that might seem as simple as hand-eye coordination is an important fine motor skill that takes time and practice to shape. So, we as teachers need to also help shape these skills and get them closer to these developmental milestones.
One example of this can look like students performing tasks like using child-size kitchen tongs to move small objects like pom-poms from one container to another. They will still be using their fingers to open and close the tongs, which is similar to the motion used while cutting. Even activities that aren’t as similar to cutting can help students build up those fine motor skills required for scissors. By finding other fine motor activities that address those same muscles, students can improve their cutting skills without even touching a pair of scissors.
When students don’t come to our classroom with proficient cutting skills, it becomes our job to help develop them. This can be done through explicit lessons, plenty of practice, and other fine motor activities. By improving our kindergarten students’ cutting skills, we are helping them develop basic skills they will continue to use for the rest of their life. And in the short term, helping with these basic, specific skills can take a lot of stress out of our students’ day. And possibly our own as well!