Thinking about a classroom pet? Imagine the astonishment in your students' eyes and unanimous “awe” escaping their lips as you unveil the animal of their dreams. It’s sure to improve your classroom… or is it?
I have always had pets and have seen the benefit for students and children who grow up with pets. Having a classroom pet is a great way to teach students responsibility, compassion, pet care and (of course) animal science. But it’s not always easy to have a pet. Once you understand the benefits and drawbacks that come along with a classroom critter, you can draw the line on what kinds of pets will work well for you and your age group… or you may find that pets won’t work at all.
Children make connections with just about everything. When they have someone or something to connect with in the classroom, they are more likely to want to come every day. Pets can bring a sense of peace and calm for your students. It can help students grow both mentally and emotionally.
The benefits make it sound like a no brainer, but there are drawbacks.
On the flipside, pets are an extra expense, an added responsibility, a likely distraction and (let’s just face it) they get stinky! However, don’t let the drawbacks stop you from moving forward, because there is probably an option out there that will work great for you. Speaking of you, that’s where YOU need to start, way before stepping foot into a pet store. You need to get clear on why you want to have a pet and how much you’re willing to take on.
Before jumping on the classroom pet bandwagon, here are the key questions you need to consider. First and foremost, does your school even allow pets? If so, do they only allow certain types? Once you’re clear on that, you can move onto these 5 additional questions…
Whether it’s for you or for the students you need to be clear with yourself on why you want it. For some teachers a pet brings them joy, while for others it’s more about teaching their students and bringing the students joy. This reason can help you decide what kind of pet to get. For example, if it’s for the students then you may want to get one that can be easily handled and taken care of by the students.
Face it, you’re a teacher… and most of us need less to do rather than more. Make note of everything you have to do right now and decide how much time you can realistically allot to taking care of your classroom pet. Don’t get a pet that will exceed those limits. If you’ve got an older class that can help, then that’s a bonus, but don’t count on the help. Every year is different.
Besides weekly time, you also need to think if you’re in this for the long haul or just testing the waters. Some teachers get an inexpensive pet for only the year and then give it to a student to have, like a hermit crab. Or choose a critter that you can hatch and release, like a baby chick in an incubator or a butterfly. No matter the pet, you’ll need to have a game plan for weekends, holidays and vacations.
For this question, you want to think about your classroom and if the type of animal you’re considering will get along ok with them. For example, is your class typically loud or quiet? A loud class might disturb certain animals, while a quiet class might get distracted by any sounds that the pet makes.
Small children can get excited and be rough with pets. Consider whether or not your classroom pet could be easily handled or if it will only be the students keeping an eye on it?
Millions of kids suffer from allergies and asthma, which can both be triggered or exacerbated by the presence of certain animals and some types of animal bedding. Usually it’s the furry little critters likely to cause issues, but much of the potential for having an issue can be taken care of by staying on top of keeping their cages clean and not letting it run wild in the classroom.
In any case, it’s something to be aware of and communicate with parents about each year. I recommend reviewing the Center for Disease Healthy Pets website for the most up-to-date information.
It’s easy to forget that pets need a budget. They need food, vet bills, supplies, etc. Some of those things really add up! Don’t let money problems stop you because there are other options. Consider asking for donations from caring neighbors, friends and parents. I know that asking can take some courage, but you’ll be amazed at how happy and willing many will be to help out, so don’t hold back. Another option is grants.
Many teachers don’t know that you can get grants for classroom pets Checkout PetsInTheClassroom.org—this is how I got my guinea pigs “Percy and Leo” for my classroom. The grant helps you get started with your classroom pet by giving you coupons and a certain percentage off if you are approved. Do an online search for other grants and see what comes up.
It’s now time to reveal 5 of my favorite classroom pets!
Keep all your answers to those questions in mind as you learn about five of my favorite classroom pet options. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but more of a guide to help you decide on what type of pet might most interest you. Then research more options to find the best fit for you and your classroom.
Fish can be an easy classroom pet, especially if you choose a goldfish or beta. However, if you want an aquarium, that is a different situation. Large aquariums will definitely take more space, time and energy than a goldfish or beta in a simple glass bowl.
You may think that fish tend to go belly-up sooner than other pets, but if you take your time to learn how to take care of your fish type (bettas can be especially sensitive), then you can likely have a fishy friend for years to come.
Have you ever just sat and watched a fish? Fish can be used as a great way to relieve stress and anxiety. They are excellent for students who tend to have a lot of energy and need to move. It’s almost like watching fish can calm the most energized child.
Nowadays small aquariums can be quite inexpensive and not much more work than a simple fish bowl. Here are a couple of fish kits with great reviews worth checking out.
GloFish Aquarium Kit Fish Tank (Multiple Sizes)
3 Gallon Tetra ColorFusion Starter aquarium Kit
Bearded dragons are extremely gentle by nature. Give them a few days to acclimate to your classroom before any handling sessions begin. Bearded dragons can be fragile in places. If you have a handling session, make sure to supervise the students and please don’t hold them by the tail as it could break off.
Bearded dragons require a warm and dry habitat. A glass terrarium with a heating element and screen top for ventilation is a great basic environment. If you add a basking spot like a flat rock near the heat source, your bearded dragon will love you. Also give them a hiding spot like a hollow log where it’s a bit cooler. These animals like to have variety.
Students can easily help feed their new pet once a day. Bearded dragons have a diet that’s made up of vegetables and live insects. They will need a shallow dish of water to keep them well hydrated.
Bearded dragons can bond to the students, but the level of affection and comfort they show depends entirely on their individual personality. They will recognize and respond to the classroom's voices and are usually even-tempered. Bearded dragons can be great pets who like to be held and taken out of their cage. However bearded dragons can carry salmonella bacteria. Make sure that anyone who handles a dragon washes up afterward.
These lizards can live 10-15 years, so they are a commitment if you plan on holding onto them.
If you like the idea of a lizard but a bearded dragon is a bit bigger than you like, consider researching a spotted gecko. There are lots of options out there.
A kit like this will work for bearded dragons and most other lizards.
Zilla Reptile Starter Kit with Light and Heat
You would think a turtle would be a great classroom pet and they can be if you have experience with turtles. Many students have not seen a turtle close up and are very intrigued. Turtles love to spend their time basking in the sun “or under UV light” in the classroom. They tend to be active swimmers. Your students will love to watch them.
Turtles are quiet. They prefer not to be handled by humans or really even in the company of them. They like quiet areas, so a loud classroom may not be the best place for them. Turtles are not as submissive or passive as people may think, making it questionable if you should have them in your classroom.
Turtles will require a large aquarium and powerful filters to keep their habitat clean. Plan to spend some money if you choose a turtle. Depending on your turtle, it could very likely grow out of the aquarium that you started with and you could have it for 25 years or more.
Remember that turtles can carry Salmonella, as other reptiles do. Salmonella is highly infectious and transmissible to humans. Hence, turtles should not be handled by students. If they are, they must instantly go wash their hands immediately afterwards!
Tetra Aquatic Turtle Deluxe Kit 20 Gallon Aquarium
In the classroom guinea pigs can be great pets and can be your furry companions for up to 8 years. They teach children to be responsible and respectful pet owners. Teachers must take the time to learn about these animals and prepare their students properly. If this is done, both the students and pets can thrive in the classroom.
Guinea pigs love to be around people. They recognize and respond to your routine. They will talk to you and beg for food. They make strong bonds with their caretakers. You will want at least two of them because they are a herding animal.
Guinea pigs will “popcorn” when they are excited!
“Popcorning” is when guinea pigs jump up straight into the air over and over again from excitement—a behavior typically displayed in younger guinea pigs. Some popcorning guinea pigs run forward and backward quickly, while others alternately kick out their front and back legs and squeal simultaneously. This behavior is quite amusing to watch. Your students will love it.
I chose to have guinea pigs in my classroom. The kids loved to watch them in their cage but I rarely took them out for the students to handle. Within a few weeks, my two guinea pigs would recognize our routines in the classroom and get excited each day the students came in. They loved the attention they received from the students!
With guinea pigs you want to make sure to get Timothy Hay for them to eat. Vegetables are great for them also but look the vegetable up before you give any to them. Carrots are considered candy and they can only have a couple of them per day. They love any type of lettuce or kale, peppers and zucchini. Guinea pigs love to eat and they will talk to you when they are hungry. Make sure to keep their water bottle full as they are very thirsty animals. Be sure to let me know if you find a water bottle for them that doesn’t leak. I haven’t found one yet . . .
Below is the best cage for guinea pigs in my mind. Don’t get the one they give you in a beginners kit. It is too small. Here is the one I own and have added onto it since. I made a two story cage for them but have since taken it down as they did not like to go up to the second story. However, this is the best cage out there. Check out the reviews. You can put your bedding in it, clean it and wash the bottom as often as you would like. Super easy to clean as guinea pigs can get stinky if you don’t clean their cage weekly.
Midwest Guinea Habitat Cage
There are plenty of furry options out there, but I chose guinea pigs over mice, rabbits and the like because:
I don’t know if I would classify bugs as pets, but they are a great option if you’re looking to have a pet-like experience and not the ongoing responsibility of taking care of it.
Butterfly hatcheries and ant farms are excellent choices. Here area couple worth checking out.
Educational Insights GeoSafari Ant Factory
Always remember that having pets in our homes or classrooms can be delightful but they also require on-going care. It's easy to fall in love with the "cuteness" of your classroom pet only to forget about them once the novelty has worn off. Discuss your decision among your staff, do your due diligence and consult experts as needed to make the best decision for everyone!
When choosing the right pet, it’s best to consider the necessary care for the animal or reptile you choose. You must also consider the age of your students and their level of activity in the classroom. Take time to decide how the pet will be cared for during weekends, summers and holidays. Consider if you plan to continue teaching for the years your classroom pet will live or if you will be leaving the profession. What will happen with your classroom pet then? If you have your mind set and have thought everything through, no matter which pet you choose for your classroom, it will surely enrich the lives of the students who get to enjoy its presence.