Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Cutting Paper with Confidence

What factors contribute to accurate, efficient scissor skills?

Fitting the task to the student's ability:  Students pay attention pretty well at the onset of a task but their attention often dwindles as the task proceeds.  This elementary school student's teacher has trimmed off the outside borders of the worksheet so the student only needs to cut the boxes of pictures apart.  As the year goes on and the students are able to cut accurately at a quicker speed, the teacher will have the students cut away the outside borders as well.
Hand Position:  This little girl's forearm and "helper" hand are positioned so that her thumbnail is almost parallel to the ceiling.  The thumb holding the scissors has the thumbnail almost facing the ceiling, too. This allows the scissor blades to hit the thin paper at a right angle, which permits a clean, straight slice.  If the palm is in a prone position (because the forearm is internally rotated) and the thumbnails are facing to the right or left or (eek) down toward the floor, the scissors will strike the paper at an angle and it will be more difficult to cut in a straight line since the paper may curl.  Also, the student can see the cutting line more easily when the paper and scissors are held as shown in the photo.

Work Station:  Note that the student's desk is fairly clear, leaving her space to rest her hands on the surface and room to sort her cut pictures into "word families."
Position in Space:  Note the change in her grasp of the paper.  She might be unsure of how far her fingers were extending along the back of the paper; were they far enough away from the blade to be safe?  I don't expect a student to demonstrate a "classic" grasp every time they pick up an item.
Placement of Fingers in Openings of Scissors:  Most students cut best when their thumbs are in the small opening of the scissors and their other fingers (all or just a few) are in the larger opening.  As the student matures in their skill you often see the index finger "leave home" and rest in the outer portion between the larger opening and the blade.  I call the index finger "the driver."

and, most importantly,

The Teacher:  This little girl has made remarkable gains in her accuracy with using scissors over the last year and I attribute it to the consistent, daily direction of her classroom teacher. 


Mr. Rob - OT said...

Nice breakdown of the task. Are there any cues or steps you use in teaching this skill to students?
The way I teach it is for students to pretend they are robots whose arms can only move at the elbow. They do the robot motion while keeping their "thumbs up". Then the do the robot motion while holding scissors keeping the "scissors pointed up", then they do the motion with the scissors in one hand and a small piece of paper in the other hand "thumbs up, scissors up, paper up". then they practice snipping and cutting across the paper while demonstrating the thumbs up, scissors up, paper up positioning. Using the robot analogy seems to stick with the kids, especially if you use a robot voice while teaching it!

School System Occupational Therapist in Virginia said...

Your robot voice & motions idea is excellent. Most of my students have difficulty cutting with scissors because of physical control of the scissors, due to low muscle tone or other neuro concerns, so I have to concentrate of positioning and keeping the forearm in neutral while cutting, or find adapted methods that are easy to set up in a classroom (taping the paper to the desktop.) When a teacher asks me to casually look at a student in gen ed I often find that the difficulty with cutting is due to inattention, holding the scissors "upside down" (fingers in the incorrect openings), or grasping the paper in an awkward spot on the page, causing it to flop a round or bend while they cut. Thx for writing!