Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cut to the chase: A simple question that perplexed us today!

At the beginning of each school year I marvel at how big of a challenge it is to get everything organized. Education is not new, drawing school district lines is not new, establishing bus schedules is not new, and determining outcome measures for education is not new - but each year it is as if no one has ever done it before, and people are left floundering around trying to figure out what needs to be done and how it needs to be done!

In my own little OT corner of the universe we came upon the issue of 'what are the best scissors for preschoolers to learn how to cut with?' Well there are no shortage of opinions but there is very little evidence I could find. That was a little surprising given the length of time we have been teaching preschoolers how to use scissors.

Having practiced OT for over 20 years I have some opinions, but they are just opinions and I have no proof to offer that the way I do things is any better than any other way. I am aware of a fine book about scissors training that Marsha Dunn Klein wrote around 20 years ago - but that wouldn't qualify as 'current' information. I am also aware of some interesting book chapters and presentations by Mary Benbow that I have read and attended over the years - but again this is nothing more than expert opinion based on normal fine motor development. We have some good developmental expectations on when skills are typically attained (as per PDMS and HELP data) - but these don't specify any given teaching method or even any specific type of scissors!

I looked through the searchable AJOT database and came up empty. OT Seeker did not have anything on the topic either. So what are the best scissors for preschoolers to use? Have I missed anything out there that anyone is aware of?

This year we will try to begin to answer this question. Since we have convenience samples that essentially parallel each other in demographics and need, and since both methods seem well accepted we will simply use Benbow scissors in one set of rooms and Fiskar scissors in another set of rooms. At the end of the year we will look for some narrative perspective of the therapists and teachers and we will look at actual rates of goal attainment since so many of the kids have scissors goals. If during the course of the year it becomes evident that one scissors is clearly superior we will switch all classes to those scissors.

Or if someone can help us answer this question sooner we would love to see your evidence!


Liz Ditz said...

Chris, I have a simple mother / grandmother question: are our expectations age-appropriate? In other words, if the current goal "masters cutting with scissors by X months," would the problem go away if the standard was revised to "masters cutting with scissors by X+12 months"?

I have looked back at my sons' records. In preschool, my granddaughter is expected to master fine motor skills at age X months that her father wasn't even asked to attempt.

Chris said...

I believe your observations are valid: most people can look at their own 'kindergarten report cards' and the expectations listed are quite different than the expectations on their children's or grandchildren's 'kindergarten report cards.

Unfortunately, backing away from current standards is not as simple as it might seem. If we have certain literacy standards for 4th grade (as an example) this is based on achievement of certain prerequisite skills in the preceding grades. So, removing an expectation for scissors use undermines an expectation for lettering, which in turn undermines an expectation in perceptual skill for reading, etc. etc.

Developmental skill is often contextually related. Scissors use is not 'beyond' the developmental capacity of any 3-4 year old. So the expectations themselves are not developmentally problematic as much as they are socially/culturally problematic. By this I mean that many children who might otherwise have intact-enough developmental preconditions will still have problems if they are not EXPOSED to and trained to use scissors.

So in sum there is nothing wrong with the expectation - as long as we create equal opportunity for exposure and learning. Goodness knows what a large problem that is though!

Your Therapy Source Inc said...


I look forward to seeing the results of your study regarding different types of scissors. So much in the field of OT and PT is based on expert opinion with limited research to back it up. Another favorite of mine is the use of weighted vests. There is not a significant amount of research to justify the best frequency and duration. How about Handwriting programs? Some research but not extensive. I appreciate the simplicity of your study - use different scissors and compare. Therapists as a whole should be doing more research like this. Have you seen It is in its infancy but the idea is great. It is an open access peer reviewed online OT journal.

Heather said...

I'm an OT student, have worked in a developmental preschool for four years, and also have a son with autism, so I, too, have been around in circles on this simple question.

For my son, he learned on Fiskars. Scissor skills are actually one of his strengths.

At the preschool we used a lot of the Handi-Squeeze scissors as a lot of our students had severe defecits in some areas. For students who graduated from them we used either Fiskars or the ones that have little blue circles for the finger holes- I'm sorry, I can't think of their name.