This is another activity which is often badly presented and overused. To find a daily situation where children of three to five sit at a table with old catalogues, poor quality scissors, pots of lumpy paste and long-handled paste brushes, and large sheets of paper to paste their cut-outs on is quite commonplace. Even if it is a free choice it is not a satisfactory experience. The adult’s error lies in not having thought out carefully enough the various stages involved. Breaking down the activity into component parts shows that some of the skills and abilities are beyond a three-year-old. Cutting out reasonably efficiently is a four-year-old skill. Three-year-olds can just about cut with scissors but are better off with strips of coloured card which are stiffer and therefore easier to cut than paper and since they are plain can be cut anywhere. A good progression for cutting out and pasting would include: using pre-cut shapes neatly arranged so that it is easy to make a choice, and providing suitable paste, brushes and a small piece of paper to put them on. Wallpaper samples cut in geometric shapes would be one possibility.
Using coloured gummed-paper strip for cutting or tearing and providing a sponge to damp them with, ready to stick on a plain postcard.
Using tissue paper to be torn and pasted on a larger background. Pre-cut tissue paper shapes are rather expensive but useful to add variety.
Providing a selection of carefully sorted Christmas and birthday cards, which are slightly stiffer than paper, and good quality scissors. The worst designs and the ‘bitty’ pictures should be rejected so that at least one large simple object which is reasonably easy to cut round appears on each card. as above but adding the pasting and sticking equipment.
By following this kind of programme reasonably flexibly each child can achieve some degree of satisfaction. Where the skills required are more suitable for very young children the same materials can have an extra factor added which will make them interesting for older children. Pre-cut geometrical shapes can be prepared in different colours, different sizes, different textures or can be arranged as patterns.
Showing children how to control the mess as they go along is better than having a grand clean up at the end. A good point for adults to remember is that small quantities of paste frequently renewed from a central, supervised bowl works better than overflowing pots. For very young children who are at the stage of being fascinated by glue a paste-spreader rather than a brush keeps their activities within manageable bounds.