The 8 Steps to Cutting Success and Activities to Match

Here you will find the most common stages children go through when learning to cut with scissors. Children generally follow this predictable pattern however sometimes stages may be skipped.

Each cutting activity suggested can be extended into an art, craft or imaginative play activity. These extension activities encourage the overall development of fine motor skills, which in turn feeds back to strengthening cutting skills.

1- Snipping

When children can hold scissors properly they are ready to start experimenting with scissors. Children generally start by performing small snips with no direction or forward movement.

To encourage early scissor skills try the following activities:

  • scissorsOffer scissors with play dough. Cutting dough sausages, balls and pancakes strengthens the hands, promotes a mature scissor grasp and fosters the open and close motion of cutting.
  • Snip through thin strips of paper that can become collage pieces or confetti.
  • Snip straws that can become beads for threading.
  • Snip around the edge of thin business cards, precut shapes or patty pans. These can then be used in art activities.

2- Cutting Forward

When children have experimented with snipping they move onto pushing their scissors forward to cut across paper. Try the following activities to assist this skill:

  • Provide newspaper or magazine pages for free cutting (no lines to follow) in a forward direction.
  • Scrap computer paper is also great for cutting in a forward direction

3- Cutting On Straight Lines

After mastering the ability of cutting forward, children can start to cut in straight lines. Thick lines are easiest to follow, thin lines are harder. Give these activities a go;

  • Draw straight lines on a piece of paper for your child to cut on. Start with short, thick lines. Gradually increase the length and reduce the width of the lines as your child masters this skill.
  • Make a simple puzzle– Ask your child to draw a picture. Draw a few straight lines on the paper so that the picture is cut up into a few puzzle pieces. Then do the puzzle.
  • Draw a X on a square piece of paper with the end of each line in the corners of the paper. Ask you child to cut on the lines to make 4 triangles.

4- Cutting and Changing Direction

At this stage, children start to cut on lines with directional changes by manipulating the direction of the scissors. Movement of the paper to assist steering is fairly limited as the child’s main concern is to hold the paper steady.

  • Draw a line from one side of the page to the other with one small change in direction (for example a shallow V or a tick).
  • Draw a few wavy lines on a piece of paper for you child to cut on.
  • Repeat above tasks with smaller and larger pieces of paper, with thick  (easier) and thin lines (harder).

5- Cutting Shapes

Children at this stage are now ready to cut out simple shapes made up of straight and curved lines such as a square, rectangle, diamond, circle and oval. Shapes with straight lines are the easiest followed by shapes with curved lines. Even harder still are shapes that combine straight and curved lines, such as a heart.

6- Squares, Rectangles, Diamonds

Draw a thick square, rectangle or diamond shape around your child’s favourite toy in a toy catalogue and ask them to cut it out. Make sure you remove the pages from the catalogue first so the paper is easy to hold and manipulate.

  • Draw small and large squares, rectangles and diamonds on paper for your child to cut out.
  • Draw a large square or rectangle. Ask your child to cut it out and then stick your favourite photo in the centre to make a simple photo frame. Decorate the frame with markers or collage materials.
  • Print some photos you have saved on your computer so your child can cut around the rectangular shape.
  • Draw or print off your computer, small street signs with straight edges that your child will recognise e.g. Give Way, Pedestrian Crossing, One-Way, etc. Your child can cut them out, stick them to a pop stick and use with their transport vehicles.

7- Circles and Ovals

Draw ovals and circles of differing sizes for your child to cut out.

  • Make a sun- draw a circle for your child to cut out. Paint or colour it yellow and stick yellow strips of crepe paper around the edge like suns rays.
  • Make a face stick puppet-– Draw an oval for your child to cut out. They can then draw facial features and attach wool for hair. Finish by adhering a stick to the back.
  • Draw an egg shape and ask your child to cut it out and paint it like a colourful Easter egg.

8- More complex shapes– Stars, Hearts, Tear Drop, Non– Geometric Shapes

  • Draw hearts, stars, arches, tear drops, crescents, semi circles and other shapes on paper for cutting out and use with collage activities.
  • Provide catalogues, newspapers and magazines that have lots of unusual shapes/interesting pictures to cut out and make into stick puppets or use with collage.
  • Provide star, crescent and circle shapes on paper for cutting out and attaching to a large piece of black paper to make a space poster. Provide markers, pencils, crayons or paint to decorate planets, stars and moons. A picture of a rocket or astronaut could also be drawn, cut out and stuck on.
  • Children can draw and cut out their own pictures to make into stick puppets or wall hangings.
  • Decorate a box with cut out drawings, magazine pictures, and shapes. Keep crayons, art supplies or special treasures in the box.


A Note About the Weight of Paper

When starting out, children find it easiest to cut heavy paper such as a gift card or postcard. Next in line is thinner paper like photocopy paper, followed by thick cardboard. Lastly and the most difficult to cut are non-paper materials such as fabric, foil, cellophane, etc.

When children are competent cutters they can experiment by cutting the following materials:

  • Tin foil
  • Fabric
  • Cellophane
  • Tissue paper
  • Crepe paper
  • Corrugated cardboard
  • String, wool
  • Thin plastic
  • Leaves
  • Thin bark

Written by Emma Butler BECS
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