Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Scissors Skills

Often there are two skills we think of when we think of the phrase “fine motor skills”.  One is writing and the other is cutting.  I feel they go hand in hand but I'll focus on scissors today.  Typically, I start scissor activities at about 2.5 years old.  Before that age the children explore with scissor-like tools or plastic scissors in their sensory and play dough explorations.   There are a lot of fine motor activities that one can do to help strengthen those muscles in their hands and you want to be sure to incorporate those often in your daily activities.  That's for another day.  :-)  Here’s a paragraph from a website that talks about how scissor skills are connected to handwriting skills. 
“Learning to use scissors properly and acquiring the skill helps to develop the necessary tools for handwriting. The three fingers of the hand controlling the scissors are the ones that are needed to grip a writing tool. The act of opening and closing the scissors helps with hand arch and web space development. The web space is the area formed when the thumb tip and index finger tip touch to form the okay sign. A closed web space can indicate potential writing problems. When children can cut across a straight line, cut out a complex shape and manipulate both the paper and scissors in a controlled manner, they will have achieved precision fine motor skills and good dexterity. Handwriting should evolve nicely as a result.”
Types of Scissors:
My most common pair of scissors is the Fiskar’s, blunt tip 5”.  I find that blades that are pointed or longer than 2” are really too long for preschoolers to maneuver around corners of a shape.  These scissors can be used for both right and left handed children.  You can purchase inexpensively during the summer months- “back to school” sales.  Especially at Target. 
Training Scissors:  Another favorite of mine are my “helping scissors”.  Mine look a little different than the ones below but have the same concept.  I use these a lot when I have a child at the snipping stage but there is a simple shape to cut out for a project.  Then I can use “hand over hand” with them to guide their scissors but they do the open and shutting.

Craft Scissors: I’m not into scrapbooking or anything like that but I have a decent collection of craft scissors from my “school-age” years.  They work nicely for snipping for preschool collage activities.  I find that they can be frustrating for preschoolers to actually cut a line with craft scissors but snipping is fun. 
Other Types:
Loop Scissors: I actually can't find an image of the pair I had purchased years ago from Discount School Supply.  I didn't care for them and really, I don't know where they are even at this point.  However, it looks like they have changed the style so perhaps I should give them another chance.  :-)  These loop scissors are a type where the children squeeze the scissors.  I found that they were more difficult for most of my students and they easily snipped their skin.  So away they went.  But I see positive changes have happened since I've purchased ours.

Table Top Scissors:  I have used this in a program where we served children with special needs.  Really, typically developing children do not need scissors like this and they are expensive.
My First Fiskars: I've also been in a program that had a couple of these type of scissors.  Again it's a spring-like action where there is more squeezing then actual opening and shutting.  They are an option for very young children at the snipping stage.

Scissor Development:
1)  Interested and explores with holding scissors or scissor like objects (ex: bug catcher)
2)  Snipping/Feather Cutting
3)  Begins to move scissors forward across the paper. 
4)  Thick Straight Lines- start at very bold line around ½ inch.  Then decrease the width as they are successful.
5)  Curved lines to zig zag lines
6)  Simple shapes to complex shapes
In most cases I find that providing daily scissor exploration and experience is sufficient for most preschoolers.  However, some homeschooling parents enjoy a very specific scissors program and some children benefit from one.  I incorporate Kumon Cutting Workbook into our activities.  They are colorful and progressive.  However, there is one program that I have used in the past and though it’s not exciting as the Kumon work…it definitely teaches the steps individually and works very well.  This book/program is called Learn To Cut: A structured program of cutting tasks with reproducible patterns by Robin R. Wolfe.
Tips for Scissors:
Sing a variation of the fingerplay, Open, Shut Them.
Open, shut them, open, shut them,
Give a little clip, clip, clip.
Open, shut them, open, shut them,
Watch scissors go snip, snip snip.

“Thumbs up!”  Most scissors now a days have a large area for the fingers and a smaller circle for the thumb.  It provides visual and tactile feedback (especially when they are trying to shove their fingers inside the small circle!) We want to remind the children to pick them up with their “thumbs up”.
“Turn the paper not the scissors.”  I usually end up singing this phrase as a piggyback song and soon they sing along. 
I also want to make a point that we need to TEACH them how to cut with their dominant hand and use their other hand to "support their work".  It's like when we are writing or drawing.  We teach the to write with their dominant hand but hold the paper still with their non dominant hand.  The only difference is that they are usually holding up the paper when they are cutting vs. holding down. 
I find that a lot of black and white confuses a child and they’ll start cutting every line…not just the thick cutting line.  So for many of my preschoolers I’ll take a marker or crayon of a contrasting color and trace along the line so they can see clearly where to cut.  On Thursday we are doing  "A Duck's Tale" booklet.  This is how I prepared it.
This booklet came from the Mailbox Publication: I Can Make It! I Can Read It! Science.  This is leveled at preschool/kindergarten.  Some of them, this one in particular, require quite a bit of cutting.  You really need to know the child to know how to prepare for the child.  I find that most preschoolers benefit from small task every day vs. big tasks once in awhile.  If a child becomes frustrated or tired, it's going to be a battle to finish the activity.  We don't want that.  Also, if they become frustrated with a skill, they are less likely to be willing to do it again at a later date.  So small doses!  This booklet would have taken us days to finish if I had them do even half of the cutting.  They would have been very capable of cutting out the 6 wings.  However, remember that children like an ending product pretty quick (just like adults).  So better to "help out" and let them finish a project like this one in one or two days vs. dragging it on for days.  I personally wanted them to experience the labeling...looking at the picture and deciding which words to put on the wing...so I opted for them cutting out the largest picture and having the rest available for them to complete the project in one session.
Often a relatively new cutter really doesn’t now how to start their work.  A tip I used long before I started the Kumon Cutting Workbook, but it shows it nicely, is to draw a line from the edge of the paper to an easy starting spot on their shape.  After a few times of doing this in front of a child, they will often start to draw that line themselves and then soon they no longer need it.  Another idea is to trim their work so there isn't a lot of blank paper on the sides.
This tip is something I very seldom do as I’m usually available to assist a child using adaptive “teacher/child” scissors but it’s an option that does work…though it takes prior planning.  One adds a textured border so that the child can not easily cut into the shape.  What I did was take glitter or regular liquid glue and traced just inside the cutting line.  Other people have used stiff cardboard, craft sticks, sand paper and so on.
Snip Cutting Materials:
Some programs have a “scissors tub/box” which is simply scrap paper and materials that the children can cut to their heart’s content.  This open/free snipping is great for new scissor users.  2.5-3 years of age.   I find that a box or tub tends to get a bit disorganized and becomes a catch-all for scrap material and then it’s not quite so appealing to the children.  I like the Scissor Tray approach for snipping.  I used that approach for an activity, this week.  I find that the my students this year are past the “free snipping” stage, for the most part, and it works better if there is a “reason” for snipping so often I incorporate the snipping with a specific activity.

I placed the various shades of brown paper strips on the tray with a pair of scissors and an empty bowl.  Most children will automatically begin snipping directly into the bowl, it's like they have an inner sense of order.  Depending on how they are raised, sometimes that sense of order lessens, sometimes not.  :-)  This led us directly into the next step.

Notice how they kept it all very organized.  Ah!  :-P  Can you tell that I prefer that?  It definitely makes it a lot easier to clean up!  Anyway.  They are using q-tips to apply tacky glue to their bowl and sticking their snippits onto the bowl to create a nest.  I do want to just mention that it's better to be over prepared.  It allows for activities to run more smoothly.  I figured that they would have "had enough" of snipping by the time they got through 4 strips of paper but I had another set sitting there above their tray as an option for them. 

"Cheep cheep!"  After nap, her nest was dry enough to play with.  She enjoyed the finger puppets.  Next time I'll use paper bowls instead of foam but that's what I had on hand at the moment.  :-)

For free snipping, you are going to want to start with strips of paper/material so that one snip is all it takes to cut off a piece of paper.  This is very rewarding for the children and new cutters need to be able to see that instant result.  As they are becoming more proficient in their cutting you may wish to make the strips wider so that it takes 2 or 3 snips to get across the paper. 
Construction paper is the easiest paper to use for snipping.  Card stock takes a bit more muscle but will work.  Other ideas:
Index Cards       
Craft foam
Straws (they BOING!)
Laminating scraps
Foam or paper plates
Pine needles
Wrapping Paper Scraps

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