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‘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!
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.
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!
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?
- 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…
- Practise sensory TACTILE DISCRIMINATION activities: eg. tubs/bins of interesting textures, such as play dough, flour, rainbow rice, or shaving cream.
I always love to receive comments, so feel free to leave a thought or response to this post in the section below.
This post is part of the Functional Skills for Kids 12 Months Series by Occupational and Physical Therapists. 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? You will LOVE this incredible resource co-authored by myself and the rest of the Functional Skills for Kids team: The Scissor Skills Book!
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