5 OT Tips for Teaching Cutting Skills

Learning how to use scissors is another important school related skill that OTs can help support. Today, let’s talk about the underlying components that impact development of cutting skills and my top five tips for teaching kids how to do it.

Cutting requires a lot of different foundational skills. A child’s attention to task, participation, hand strength, core and upper body strength, bilateral coordination, and motor planning skills all impact their ability to cut and use scissors.  If a student has challenges in any of these areas, learning to use scissors will be hard. Click the blue links above to check out my previous posts on some of these topics.

Let’s jump in and explore some tips you can use to teach cutting skills.

Teach the underlying skills.  

If you break down the task of cutting, it is a lot harder than you might think!  As I mentioned before, learning to use scissors requires a lot of foundational skills that do not just include paper and scissors.  I encourage you to engage students in activities that directly address the underlying skills needed for cutting that I mentioned before.   It can be easy to incorporate these into play!  Here are some of my favorite simple ideas you can likely incorporate pretty easily into your day, and check out the blog posts I liked above for even more ideas:

  • Tearing/ripping paper
  • Play doh – rolling, squeezing, pulling
  • Tweezer or clothespin activities
  • Finger play songs, focusing on directionality (up, down, left right) and finger names (especially thumb)

Follow the developmental sequence.

It is important to know where to start and progress with cutting skills.  Typically, a child will begin with snipping and then progress to cutting across paper without following a line.  Then, a child will cut across a straight line with accuracy, followed by curved and angled lines, and finally will learn to cut out simple shapes.  Remember, there is a wide range of progression with these skills.  These milestones are derived from a checklist we use at my school, that was adapted from the Peabody Developmental Motor Scales assessment.  Check with your OT in regards to specific questions for your students.

  • Secure scissors on fingers (24 months)
  • Holds paper for cutting and snips one snip (26 months)
  • Cut a 5-8in of paper in half (36-38 months)
  • Cut across a straight line (42 months)
  • Cut curved lines (50 months)
  • Cut shapes (54months)
  • Cut variety of art projects (72 months)

Check positioning.

When cutting, we want to see a child in a proper and supported position.  However, positioning is so important for not only the child, but also for materials and for any adults providing assistance. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Check to ensure the child’s feet are secure on the floor.  If they are dangling, put a stepstool or another item underneath so they have something to rest on.
  • Ensure the child’s elbows are close to their sides.  If they are having a hard time with this, place a folder under the arm that the child has to keep secure against his body.
  • Cue the child to hold the paper with the helper, or non cutting, hand.
  • Present the scissors in the middle of the child’s body.  This ensures the child is picking up the scissors with her preferred hand, and not just the hand that the scissors are closest to.
  • When providing physical help to a child when cutting, stand behind him.  This will give you better positioning to provide assistance as needed.
  • When encouraging a ‘thumbs up’ scissors grasp, try using a visual cue like a smiley face or sticker on the child’s thumb to help her remember what it means to keep the thumb up!

Use thick paper.

When a child is first learning to cut, it is so much easier to learn on thicker paper.  Try using construction paper or even cardstock for your cutting activities.  My favorite tip for beginning cutters is to go to your local home improvement store and grab some paint samples.  Paint samples are awesome for practicing cutting across straight lines.  They are usually printed on thicker paper and have built in lines already.  My students love cutting across them and then gluing the different color strips on paper to make a fun and simple art project.

Choose the right scissors.

There are so many different kinds of scissors available, so be sure to choose scissors that are appropriate for your student.  Your OT can help with this.  In general, scissors that have longer blades will be a little more difficult to control.  Therefore, scissors with shorter blades can be better for younger students.  Here is a short overview of some of the scissors I commonly use – but there are a ton of other options.

  • Plastic scissors – these are great when very young kids are just learning to explore and cut with items like playdoh.
  • Standard child scissors – these are the most common scissors you will see when you are shopping in a standard store like Target.  You may see both blunt tip and sharp tip blades offered.  In general, blunt tip and shorter blades may be better for younger students as they are learning to cut.
  • Springloaded scissors – these scissors have a spring mechanism in them that when activated, can help facilitate the open/close mechanism.  If a child is able to squeeze and close the scissors shut but doesn’t yet have the strength to open them back up, springloaded scissors can be a good option.
  • Loop scissors – these scissors have loops instead of finger holes, so they are really great for students who are still learning the motor plan of how to secure scissors on their hand.  These scissors allow the student to just focus on the squeezing part of cutting.

What are some of your favorite ways to teach cutting skills?  Drop a comment below!

This blog is for informational purposes only.  The information is general in nature.  Please consult your OT for specific recommendations.  Please supervise children closely when using scissors. 


  1. Thank you for all of these suggestions! I am in hopes that one of these or a combination of all will give my students success!

    • Hope these are helpful for you, Lora! Thanks for reading 🙂


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