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Which Animal Makes a Good Class Pet?

By Bronwyn Harris
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A class pet can be an invaluable experience for elementary school children. The pet can teach responsibility, build a connection to the classroom, serve as a motivator, and be something for the children to love. If the teacher is willing to take on the added responsibility of caring for an animal in addition to all of the children in the classroom, a class pet can be a wonderful addition to a class.

Many criteria need to be taken into consideration when choosing a class pet. It cannot be too big, as classrooms generally have limited space. Cost should also be considered since the teacher will likely have to pay for the pet, its food and its habitat. It must also be somewhat hardy. Each particular type of animal has its advantages and disadvantages, and a teacher must weigh these and make a decision about which one is right for his or her class.

Rodents such as hamsters, gerbils, rats, and guinea pigs do not require any kind of special environment, expensive equipment, or particular temperatures to thrive. They are furry, cute, warm, and children develop a strong attachment to them quickly. The downside of having a rodent for a pet is that it tends to have a strong odor if its cage is not cleaned frequently. They may also bite if they are provoked, and are often very fragile. Younger children should be closely supervised when handling small rodents, or you should institute a "hands-off" rule to avoid accidental rough handling.

Birds are physically more delicate than many other animals. They will not survive in drafts and need a somewhat regulated temperature in their environment. Many birds are quite social and do best with other birds or when being handled routinely by people who can be appropriate with them. Young children are not likely to have the skill to handle a bird without harming it, making it a poor choice for a class pet.

Some reptiles are beautiful to look at but are delicate or poisonous and shouldn’t be handled by children. Others are more hardy but require elaborate and expensive habitats, with heat. Most snakes and large lizards eat rats and mice, which may be a frightening thing for small children to witness. Some reptiles, such as the Leopard Gecko, appear more harmless, can withstand more handling and can therefore thrive better as a class pet.

A hardy fish, such as a betta, is a good low-cost option for a class pet. They are obviously not cuddly or able to be handled, which provides less interaction for the children. However, they are inexpensive, have relatively long life spans, and can be kept in a simple fish bowl.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1005271 — On Jul 24, 2021

No, guinea pigs and ferrets aren’t good pets for a baby day care. The ferrets can get frightened by the kids and can bite with their very sharp teeth. And guinea pigs can be very loud. Same with hamsters.

By anon992298 — On Aug 28, 2015

I'm in fourth grade and I need a non-expensive class pet that can't be a snake, mouse or spider and I need one fast! Please help!

By anon254234 — On Mar 12, 2012

Great information! Thank you! Pets can be so beneficial to kids! There is a grant program called Pets in the Classroom that provides up to $150 to K-6th grade teachers for the purpose of purchasing a classroom pet and/or pet supplies.

By anon153631 — On Feb 17, 2011

Is having a hamster, guinea pig, birds, rabbits in my 3 year old day care healthy for him?

By anon105645 — On Aug 21, 2010

Just fyi: chinchillas are nocturnal as well.

By pleats — On Aug 18, 2010

A great way to introduce younger children to the idea of having a class pet is to get a book about them, and read it to them before unveiling the pet.

I usually use a book called The Class Pet From the Black Lagoon. It's really cute, and can get kids in the pet-caring-for mode.

By EarlyForest — On Aug 18, 2010

Thank you so much for this article -- having a class pet is a great segue into pet adoption, and knowing how to take care of a pet and all the responsibility required can really teach children important lessons before the adoption of the pet, not afterwards. This is a win-win situation for both the pet and the kid.

By yournamehere — On Aug 18, 2010

Another quick note -- be sure to get the proper facilities to store whichever pet you choose for your classroom.

Too often people just pick up a generic "pet aquarium" that may not be suitable for all pets.

Nobody wants an unhappy class pet -- do the homework before you get one, and make sure you think about providing for the pets' needs, not just the class's.

By TranceGemini — On Nov 05, 2008

Hi there. I read your article and I just wanted to make a couple of points. :)

Rodents do not make good class pets for elementary-aged children, as they are small and delicate and children at that age may inadvertently injure them, even though the students are trying to be "gentle". Most kids don't know their own strength! Additionally, hamsters and some others are nocturnal, and putting them in a bright, sometimes noisy environment can be detrimental to them. As well, you actually cannot keep rodents in an aquarium, as the ammonia smell can suffocate them. They require cages or those "Critter Trail" things with the tubes, or Rubbermaid containers--there are many sites on these.

Second, bettas do not thrive in fishbowls, and should not be kept in them. Betta fish require temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and need at least two and a half gallons of water to be comfortable, as well as plants (real or fake) in which to hide when they are stressed. They do make fantastic classroom pets, but it should be noted that a teacher needs to be willing to provide the proper care and housing that the animal(s) need. Many teachers I've seen who have class pets also know very little about the animals, and do not do any preliminary research before bringing the animal(s) into their classrooms, resulting in the wrong environment or housing or care for said animal(s).

A final point I'd like to make is that while children may be OK to care for the class pet within the classroom environment, allowing the children to take the animal home for a class break is a bad idea; it's stressful for the animals and many children are not supervised when interacting with the animals at home, because their parents figure, "It lives in his classroom, he knows what to do with it." It is far better for the teacher to arrange for the pet to be cared for within the classroom during the break, or to take it home him/herself.

Thanks for reading! I can't wait until I am a teacher and I can have a class pet; chinchillas are actually fairly good in a middle-school classroom or upper elementary (fourth, fifth, or sixth grade)! :)

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