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  • Writer's pictureAliza

Using Scissors and Tape with Two and Three Year Olds

Updated: Jul 27, 2020

I will start by saying that I can't promise that I won't get carried away talking about scissors and tape. I might get swept up in an almost religious zeal as I describe children using these materials.

When the day comes in my classroom, usually in the 3rd-4th month of school, where the tape and scissors are left on the shelf, and I see children walking with their hands full of these supplies to the art table, I feel like I have fulfilled my purpose on this earth.

I might be a overly passionate about my job. Just the teensiest bit.

But, let's start from the beginning. We build up to using scissors and tape together over the course of a few weeks. There are so many steps to the process, and so it helps to break it all down.

When this blog post is done, you will have a month's worth of art lessons planned.

First, we begin with tape.

Colored masking tape, to be exact. For at least three days, the art table will have pre-cut tape for the children. The tape is there for them to pull off the tray and place onto their paper.

They are learning that tape is sticky on one side. That side has to be touching the paper in order for it to stick.

Handling the tape might require using two hands to keep the tape straight as it is placed on the paper. If they do not hold the tape straight, there might be some wrinkles and folds in their tape. Some children do not mind wrinkly tape. Others refuse anything other than a pristine, perfectly laid out piece of tape.

The children notice the bright colors. Some children choose a color at random, and put the tape down anywhere on the page. But some children quickly develop a plan, choosing their colors and placement carefully.

It is fascinating to see how each child approaches their work. These are also great sources of conversation. This is where we the rich conversation that builds children's vocabulary comes into our work. This is where we teach children that talking about art means noticing lines, colors, shapes, and techniques. This is where we can give authentic feedback in addition to, or instead of praise.

This is why, I believe, that we not need things like a "color curriculum." Because if we are giving children real materials and real work, if we are fascinated by what and how they create, the information, the conversation, and the vocabulary flows. Because the children need it to communicate.

I'll get down from my pedestal now, and back to the nitty gritty.

For Example:

  • "I noticed you used only red and blue pieces of tape."

  • "You are keeping the tape so straight on your paper."

  • "You put all those pieces of tape in a line."

  • "Look at all those colors you chose. It looks so bright!"

  • "Your tape is going in all different directions!"

Over the course of that first week, you can vary the colors of tape, or the color and size of the paper.

You might even show some children that tape can help attach things together. Or you can save that little bit of magic for later, depending on the children's interest, ability, and whatever else might be happening in the class at the time.

Next up, Scissors.

As you can see, all we do to introduce scissors, is place some strips of paper on some trays, with some scissors. The end.

This step of the process requires close teacher attention and guidance. Because scissors are sharp, this needs to be a calm area of the room. And so, there are no extra pairs of scissors around. If I feel I can comfortably work with 4 children, then there are 4 pairs of scissors, and four spots to sit. This prevents grabbing, and children wandering around with scissors.

We demonstrate how to hold the scissors, and we show them where their fingers go. We tell them to open and close the scissors. We try to keep that thumb up on top as they cut, but if they are successful without it, I won't make a huge fuss.

And then for three days, we cut. We cut scraps of paper; we cut up packaging from snack; we cut paintings that have no names.

We cut and cut and cut.

Usually, we spend another week creating collages with all these itty bitty bits of paper.

We cut straws, and then use them as beads. After cutting straws for a day or two, we string the small pieces onto pipe cleaners.

As they practice and become more independent, those scissors stay out on the shelves more often. If it feels like the class is ready, we will leave the scissors out for "free art" which we do each Friday. This means the children can take whatever they would like from the art shelf, including scissors and paper.


Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

As you can imagine, when we are ready for this step, I am quite excited. Like when we introduced scissors for the first time, this requires a teacher close by, ready and able to offer a lot of guidance. There are so many steps for children to keep track of. They are clumsy at first, but with practice, they gain fluency in their movements and success in managing it all. Sometimes they need both hands for one step, like pulling the tape; they need to be able to pick up the scissors with one hand while holding the tape with the other; they need to cut the tape, and to put the scissors down again in order to put the tape on the paper.

It's a lot for their little hands, but that is what we are there to learn; how to use our eyes and our hands in increasingly complex ways. While I am usually pretty hands off when it comes to children's work, I do offer my extra set of hands for holding the tape, while they learn all the steps.

Oh, those hand muscles get stronger and more agile each day! And that is why I consider working with art materials the same as early literacy. Those hands will be strong enough to write all the letters of the alphabet some day.

At the ages of two and three, today does not have to be that day.

Another literacy boost:

The more dexterity and skills and grit they have; the more materials they know how to use, then the more tools they can access to help them tell their own stories.

Taking the A train to work stories:

And the stories they can tell with these guys! In the photo below they are being dressed as Elsa and Anna for a version of Frozen not shown in any theaters.

Which reminds me. One day, I will have to do a post about wooden peg dolls.

But until then, I bid you adieu.

Happy taping!

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