All You Need to Know About Class Pets!

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Everything you need to know about Classroom Pets - a girl looks at a goldfish in a bowl
Cassie (Teach Starter)

Written by Cassie (Teach Starter)

Mr Elms, my Year 7 teacher loved two things. Bingo and fish. Pet fish that is. When you made it to Mr Elms’ senior class, it meant you were finally responsible enough to be a member of “The Fish Club”.

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Our classroom sat in an old building at the bottom of a hill on the school grounds. With raked wooden ceilings and timber “VJ” walls, all painted an almost yellow shade of cream, the large room was split in two. However, our small Year 6/7 composite class needed only one half of the room. Leaving the other space free for all of our fish. There were fish tanks along every wall of the room. On one side the tanks sat into a custom built wall, with a small corridor behind it for us to access when feeding the fish or cleaning the tanks. It was pretty much the closest you could get to an aquarium outside of a pet store. Or an actual aquarium. We had angelfish and tetras, zebra oscar fish and discus.

Now I realise that this kind of set up is taking the concept of class pets to the extreme, and upon reflection, it’s clear that Mr Elms had a passion for fish and his personal efforts outside of school hours would have been what made our Fish Club a sustained part of our primary school learning experience. While you don’t have to create a multi-tank, multi-species Fish Club to get started on the classroom pet journey with your own students, having a class pet is great for a number of reasons.

The Benefits of Class Pets

Like anything, there are pros and cons for keeping a class pet. Here are some of the benefits you and your students may experience when adding an animal to the roll.

  • Animals create authentic, hands-on learning experiences (like scrubbing fish tanks at lunchtime… ?).
  • Caring for pets teaches compassion and responsibility.
  • Students learn to develop awareness and respect for living creatures.

A Few Things to Consider Before Committing to a Class Pet

Those of us who have, or have had pets in the past, will know that it’s not really as simple as choosing a fish and creating a fish-tank cleaning roster for your students. Deciding to care for a class pet is a big decision and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. As mentioned above, these living creatures will be depending on you, your students, and quite possibly other members of your class community, to provide them with a safe and comfortable life.

You will need to consider:

  • What is the temperature like in your classroom when it is not occupied? If air conditioning or heaters are turned off when the humans leave, is the environment still okay for your pet?
  • Who will care for your class pet over weekends and school holidays? Is the pet easy to care for if going home with students and their families?
  • Do the species travel well? Class pets can do a lot of travel!
  • How much will it cost to feed and provide care for the pet, and who will pay for it?
  • If you have more than one pet of the same species together, they are likely to breed?

Real Classroom Pet Stories

With all of that in mind, it’s hard to give a definitive list of the best class pets. It is completely dependent on you, your class group, where you live and what kind of pets you can confidently and compassionately keep. We asked members of the Aussie Teach Starter Facebook Group to share their real classroom pet stories. Here are the experiences they had to share!

Fish

“I always had a fish tank until I started to travel, then did substitute teaching. The kids loved them and had fond memories of them…” – L.S.

Worms

“Now we have worms….building on our sustainability theme. This year’s crop of students are very diligent about collecting food scraps and feeding them.” – L.S.

a pair of child's hands hold worms - classroom pets

Rats, Mice, Guinea Pigs & Hamsters

“All was going great for a few weeks until one of the two female rats had a litter of babies unexpectedly! (Must have been sold pregnant or immaculate conception!) Our class ended up with 9 baby rats and a very protective Mom who bit everyone!” –  N.B.

“Years ago I had rats as class pets. My favorite of all time was a lovely girl called Pip Squeak. She would walk on the desks and sit on the children’s shoulders while they worked. The students adored her. She would get so excited when they came in in the morning!” – S.R.

“I have kept mice and a budgie and a hamster. Two bad things… The mice were a problem as they were a bit smelly, had lots of babies and one escaped. Unfortunately, it crawled into an inaccessible corner to die and stank the room out!” – A.M.

Birds

“(We have had) a budgie named Fluffy who was just beautiful… The kids loved her as she was so tame. They took her home for weekends. She had the knack of singing out at inappropriate moments keeping us all entertained.” – A.M.

Dogs

“This is Oscar. He comes with me to work every Friday. Oscar is a Story Dog. My students take it, in turn, to read to him throughout the day. He is not exactly a class pet more a treasured member of our class.” – J.M.

Oscar the Story Dog reading with his classmates

Rabbits

“We have a class bunny rabbit called Pixie. The students love her.” – M.M.

A Little Bit of Everything!

“Hermit crabs, stick insects, fish and 3 lizards …. all at the same time! Kids loved it in my Science classroom!” – A.R.

Tell us, have you ever had a class pet?
Share your experience in the comments below!

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