Sensory Processing and Scissor Skills – A Surprising Link

Sensory Processing and Scissor Skills – A Surprising Link

‘Cutting’ is a highly complex activity (occupation). Being competent and confident grasping and manipulating scissors relies on many underlying skills, including fine motor, gross motor and visual perceptual skills.

Many people are surprised to learn however, that sensory processing skills play such an important role in a child’s ability to efficiently use scissors! 

The Surprising Link Between Sensory Processing and Scissor Skills - Kids Play Space

WHY SHOULD KIDS BOTHER WITH CUTTING SKILLS ANYWAY?

Just as understanding mathematical concepts are valuable despite the existence of calculators; and handwriting coexists happily alongside computers and other electronic devices; similarly, scissors are not set to be replaced by guillotines or other cutting machines or gadgets anytime soon.

In fact, here are 4 TOP reasons to love cutting, and to develop efficient scissor skills: 

1. Scissors offer so many creative opportunities in PLAY: construction, art and craft, parties/decoration, sensory, imaginative/symbolic play. Scissor skills can allow our ideas to become reality! Whether kids are interested in the process or the product, cutting can be so much fun!

(This should be reason enough, but wait, there’s more!…)

2. Cutting skills with scissors, prepares us for more complex cutting tools and tasks, where greater skill and precision is needed:  For example, nail clippers, various types of scissors (small, long, large, industrial), secuteers, tweezers, chopsticks, pliers…

3. Many workplaces demand proficient cutting skills as an assumed, standard, core requirement of the job. For example, making laminated signs, preparing products, opening boxes and packaging, cooking/food handling; as well a whole range of trades which depend on high level scissor skills, from electricians to hairdressers, butchers, fisherman, chefs, and fashion industry workers.

4. Scissor skills are an important life skill.  Scissor skills in daily tasks range from the ordinary (like cutting tags off new clothes, trimming nails, opening food packaging, and gift wrapping), to the special (such as cutting umbilical cords as we welcome newborn babies into the world, official openings and ceremonies, and chipping and splicing a cool new haircut). 

Although we cannot even IMAGINE the jobs our children will pursue in the future, we do know that humans have used tools throughout history, and efficient scissor use sets kids up with PRACTICAL SKILLS FOR LIFE.

Scissors and play - Kids Play Space

SENSORY PROCESSING AND SCISSOR SKILLS

Sensory processing underlies our success in ALL fine and gross motor tasks. (That is, all activities involving movement.)

Therefore, cutting efficiently and effectively, relies on efficient sensory processing.

When we receive accurate feedback from our senses, we are best able to:

  • Remain calm and focused on the task at hand,
  • Position our body,
  • Grasp the scissors and paper,
  • Coordinate both hands,
  • Coordinate visual information and motor movements (visual motor integration),
  • Use appropriate force and speed, and
  • Adjust our movements based on how we are going mid task.

Efficient feedback allows us to plan, predict, sequence, time and coordinate smooth movements. This skill, which relies so heavily on efficient sensory processing, is called motor planning (praxis).

SENSORY PROCESSING DIFFICULTIES

When children experience inefficient sensory processing they may display the following difficulties when using scissors:

  • Impulsive, fast paced, poorly controlled (even unsafe) cutting – almost snipping own fingers!
  • Particularly slow, cautious, hesitant cutting
  • Inconsistent grasping of the scissors (holding the scissors in different ways)
  • Uncertainty and inefficiency with holding and manipulating the paper with the non dominant hand. (For example: Not moving or readjusting the paper and instead – bending and twisting the cutting hand; not holding the paper securely; or rotating the paper in an awkward manner)
  • Intense frustration and difficulties persevering  – maybe even ripping or tearing the paper
  • Difficulties noticing errors and/or making adjustments and corrections whilst cutting
  • Reluctance to engage in any cutting tasks (and lack of confidence with scissors)

By amplifying important sensory feedback, kids with sensory processing challenges can practise using scissors effectively, making them a fun tool to access in play!

Sensory tactile cutting ideas - kids play space

 

EXTREME SCISSOR FUN

Now to BOMBARD THE SENSES so that the brain receives the correct information, loud and clear, about where the body is and what it needs to do when armed with a pair of scissors!

  • Choose INTERESTING TEXTURES and materials requiring more muscle effort to cut than just plain paper: nature (leaves, barks, grass), cardboard (recycled items – cereal boxes, paper towel rolls, egg cartons), sandpaper, corrugated card, food (cheese, ham, spring onion, herbs, spaghetti-noodles…), playdough, theraputty, straws, pipe cleaners, …
  • Try PAIRING SOUNDS to scissor work: Verbal cues, counting, chanting, singing, listening to music with a strong beat whilst cutting. Start slow and steady!
  • Think BIG and BOLD visual cues! Thick, colourful lines; and visual prompts indicating where to hold the paper and where the scissors enter, and arrows indicating cutting direction.
  • Allow TIME for kids to self reflect: How are you going? Still on the line? Which attempt was best?

 

Scissor practise with play dough - kids play space

 

  • GRADED PRACTISE to reinforce the feel of correct scissor grasp and cutting action: single snips first, then 2 – 3 snips, then straight lines, curved lines, and interesting shapes.
  • Visual, tactile and proprioceptive MODIFICATIONS to reinforce efficient positioning and motor memory: For example: blu tac to stick thumb in position in loop,  scissors with a spring assisting the movement, resting elbows onto table, a ‘cheat sheet’ laminated on the desk showing how to set up for cutting (including where to put fingers, thumbs, elbows, and where to point the scissors), a sticker/smiley face/ mark on the thumb nails to encourage thumbs to face upwards.
  • Hand over hand assistance in holding the scissors/paper correctly: providing further tactile/proprioceptive feedback about efficient positioning and smooth, coordinated movements.
  • Work on overall BODY AWARENESS and MOTOR PLANNING: Activities involving tactile and proprioceptive sensory input (deep pressure/firm touch, and ‘heavy work’ activities, involving muscle effort). For example: Jump and Crash games, Star jumps, Scissor jumps, ‘pushing the wall over’ using hands or feet, ‘tug of war’, climbing, hanging, swinging – holding strongly onto the ropes, push ups (floor, wall or desk), hand squeezes, hand clapping games, ‘Simon Says’, ‘Follow the Leader’, yoga, ‘animal walks’ (eg. bear walking on hands and feet), crawling on uneven surfaces…

 

FREE PRINTABLE TIP SHEETS

Here are 3 free printable tip sheets, designed (by myself) from an OT perspective, to support children with sensory processing difficulties to master scissor skills, including:

  • The Ultimate Sensory Toolkit Checklist for Scissor Skill Mastery
  • Witch’s Magic Potion
  • Kids in the Kitchen – Pizza

(Note: These printables would be appropriate for any children seeking to practise scissor skills, depending on developmental level)

DOWNLOAD HERE: Kids Play Space – Scissor Skill Mastery Pack

I always love to receive comments, so feel free to leave a thought or response to this post in the section below.


Functional Skills for Kids Logo

This post is part of the Functional Skills for Kids 12 Months Series by Occupational and Physical Therapists.

You can read all of the functional skills HERE.

Read all of my monthly posts in this series HERE.

Looking for more information about scissor skills from an occupational therapy and physical therapy perspective? Stop by to see what the other OTs and PTs in the Functional Skills for Kids series have written…

 

Developmental Progression of Scissor Skills: 35 Best Tips for Teaching Kids to Use Scissors | Mama OT

Fine Motor Considerations for Learning to Use Scissors |  Miss Jaime,  O.T.

Gross Motor Skills and Scissor Use  | Your Therapy Source

Sensory Processing and Scissor Skills – a Surprising Link  | Kids Play Space

Teach Kids How to Slow Down to Cut on Lines |Sugar Aunts

5 Tips for Difficulties with Scissor Skills  | Growing Hands-On Kids

Creative Cutting Practice for Kids | The Inspired Treehouse

Visual Motor Skills and Cutting With Scissors  | Therapy Fun Zone

Animal Puppets! Cut. Create. Play.  | Your Kids OT

 

Thanks for visiting Kids Play Space,

Until soon,

Happy playing,

Anna 🙂

 

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Comments
  1. Brilliant! Who would have thought that so much goes into using scissors? Very useful. My daughter (6yrs) loves using scissors but doesn’t get as many chances as her peers as she’s left handed and whenever we did kids crafts at mum & toddler groups they would only ever have right handed ones. :/

    • Anna

      Hi there ‘Hippy Christian Mum’! isn’t it incredible how common left handedness is, and yet how right-handed the world is?! Very frustrating! Your daughter will likely need to “BYO” (bring your/her own!) left handed scissors along with her most places! (I’d keep a spare pair in her bag!) Thanks for stopping by to comment! – Anna

  2. Rachel Cohen

    Hi Anna!
    I loved your article! A new perspective to fine motor training.
    Im gonna use all your tips in my sessions!
    Thank u 🙂
    Rachel, B.O.T

    • Anna

      Hi Rachel! I’m so happy you found some of this useful! Best wishes, Anna 🙂

  3. Danya

    Very thorough, as usual! My eldest daughter loved cutting when she was at preschooler age – over and over and over again. And now my youngest is at that age, she’s starting to become cutting obsessed too. I love all your ideas of how to vary it up, we’ll be trying some of those!

    • Anna

      Thank Danya! I totally hear you on the ‘cutting obsession’ thing! My son is seriously wanting to cut up everything!!! – Anna:-)

  4. Kelly

    My daughter is going through a cutting all the things phase, so really helpful from my point of view to read of all the benefits (because it was sending me a little nutty!)

    • Anna

      Join the cutting gang Kelly! It can feel like a new super power to some kids!! At least it is a good, functional skill to develop and all that practise is awesome! – Anna 🙂

  5. Jaime Spencer

    I love the examples you provided – surgeons cutting the umbilical cord, butchers cutting the meat, etc. It’s so true. You are right – the link between sensory processing and scissors is SURPRISING- but it’s there!

  6. Girl

    Hello!I want to ask about my student he is an autistic child of 6 years old. He has no eye hand coordination and fine motor skill as well. I make many activities for him but i can’t see any improvement on his these skills due to this in academic he can’t write and recognize please give me some ideas I will be very thankful of you.

    • Anna

      Hi there, It is really difficult to make specific, individual recommendations without assessing the child themselves. It sounds like this student of yours has several challenges to take into consideration. I would suggest an occupational therapy review, and also, prioritising this little boy’s goals. All the best! Anna

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