There’s nothing more fun than a classroom pet to bring a bit of joy to your school day and an extra dose of learning for your kids. But teachers have enough to do already, so you need to be careful as you make a decision about what to bring into your room. Any animal that brings excess stress is not the right choice for your class.
Here are my suggestions on the best classroom pets.
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Best Classroom Pets
Here are my favorite options for classroom pets. Be sure to think seriously about how much time and money you’re willing to spend on upkeep, and also consider whether the animal will need to spend weekends at your home. Great pets for the classroom are ones that don’t add stress to your life and enhance your students’ learning opportunities.
Guinea pigs make wonderful classroom pets. They are active both day and night, so they are an interesting creature for kids to take turns watching. They make funny sounds to show how they’re feeling, and they “popcorn” when they are excited, meaning they just hop straight up and down!
They’re physically tougher than bunnies and less fearful than other small rodents. Fortunately, they live longer than most small rodents, too, so unless something unusual happens, you’re less likely to deal with kids getting attached to an animal that will die that same year.
According to PetMD, guinea pigs are just as social as dogs and cats and can even squeal with delight when they see their owners. They are the perfect pet for young children to learn responsibility and how to handle an animal with care.
Bearded dragons make great classroom pets and are excellent small animals for kids. They are very gentle animals and you can supervise while your students handle it. You do have to be gentle, because their tails can be a big fragile and can possibly break off if they are mishandled.
Bearded dragons require a heated tank full time because they are desert animals. The best choice would be a glass environment with a screened lid for ventilation. They also enjoy a flat rock to bask in the warmth of their heat lamp or uv light, as well as a hollowed out space that stays cooler where they can hide away.
Dragons require a little bath in a warm tub about once a week for hygiene and hydration, and it can also relieve the discomforts of shedding and constipation. It’s a pretty simple process and can be done in any plastic container, even right there in your classroom. Some bearded dragons love a bath and others hate it, so it’s really luck of the draw.
They eat vegetables and live insects. For some people, needing to feed with live insects might be a deal breaker, but these are otherwise a pretty great option. You can get live insects at your local pet store, too.
Fish of all kinds are an easy class pet that can enhance your classroom environment. They are the most common class pet. They’re inexpensive, feeding them is simple, and kids will enjoy watching them swim around the tank.
You can make your fish tank as elaborate or as simple as you want, making them a great starter pet for a teacher who wants to just dip her toe into the class pet world. I can personally vouch for the Aqueon brand of fish tank, as it’s what I used for my daughter.
When you go on an extended break over the fall, winter, or spring holiday, you can leave a tablet in there to feed the fish in your absence. They are easily the most low maintenance of all classroom pets.
Betta fish are especially hardy, easy fish to keep alive, and their colors can be really beautiful. They come in bright blues and reds. You can easily find one at your local pet store. Betta fish are solitary creatures, though, so don’t try to give them a friend. They’re highly aggressive with other fish.
If you’re new to having a fish tank, you may not realize that tanks can get really cloudy, green and gross over time. There are all sorts of products to combat this problem, but I’ve found that the best way to keep your tank beautiful is to use real plants and rocks rather than anything plastic.
Consider adding an algae eating fish, as well. You can find real plants at any local aquarium shop, although the huge pet stores chains don’t normally carry living plants.
These can be great class pets. They’re highly energetic and social, and unlike hamsters, they play during the day. They love to be in pairs, so just make sure you have two of the same sex to avoid making a bunch of gerbil babies!
Gerbils bite less than mice, so older children may hold them successfully. They are also less stinky than most small mammals, so that’s a big perk for the classroom. They will do well in 10-gallon aquariums with lots of play things, like a wheel to run on and chew toys. You can get everything you need at your local pet store.
Gerbils bite and chew when they’re bored. You won’t want these animals out of their cage at all, but since they’re so energetic, kids may enjoy just watching as they play with their toys and get exercise.
Not all snakes are aggressive and unfit for the classroom. While some kids have a true phobia of snakes, I think you can add a corn snake to your class and develop children’s tolerance of snakes. It won’t take long before many of your students see a corn snake as a true pet rather than a threat.
Corn snakes are a bright, beautiful color, so they’re easy to spot in their tank. They can grow up to 3-5 feet long. Of all the snakes, corn snakes are the most friendly and docile, making them the perfect classroom addition. They can easily be trained to spend time with large groups of people over a long period of time without becoming stressed.
There are already many captive corn snakes, so you don’t have to worry about pulling from wild populations to acquire one. That makes me feel better about the choice you’ll be making to bring one into your classroom.
As for building a corn snake habitat, you’ll need a very secure tank with a temperature gradient. Snakes need to be able to move from warmer to cooler locations within the tank. You’ll want a heat lamp on one end so your snake can seek out warmth when needed and then cool down on the other end. Of course, they’ll need fresh water in the tank.
One of the most interesting aspects of having a snake in the classroom is watching the shedding process. Your students will be fascinated to learn more about shedding and see the snake find its way out of an old skin into a new one.
One serious downside is that snakes need to feed on rodents. You’ll have to purchase frozen rodents from the pet store, and feed your snake every 7-14 days depending on his age. I do think that snakes of any kind might be a better choice in a middle school classroom, where kids are less likely to be bothered and distracted.
There are two main drawbacks to a leopard gecko – 1) they are somewhat expensive and 2) they are mostly nocturnal.
However, they have many wonderful qualities that might make them worth the trouble. Read more here to learn about leopard geckos in the classroom, since I do not personally have experience with them. I was most interested to learn that kids LOVE watching the leopard gecko shed its skin.
Classroom Pets to Avoid
Here is a list of common class pets that I think you’re better off avoiding. You need low-maintenance pets in the classroom, and these do not fit the bill!
Hamsters are fairly clean, but they’re not social animals. That means they can be nice to look at, but kids won’t be able to handle them. Further, because they’re nocturnal, they’re not even terribly entertaining in the classroom! Hamsters will sleep all day while your kids are in the room.
Hermit crabs are smart creatures, and they can be interesting to watch as they burrow, scavenge for food, and interact with their “crabitat.” However, young children can’t safely hold them because they will pinch. Further, they’re extremely sensitive to their environment, and most teachers don’t need to spend time carefully assessing and modifying their hermit crab tank to keep their crabs from dying. I don’t think the payoff is worth the work involved.
Ferrets are unpredictable and aggressive, which doesn’t mix well with little kids in the room. They also stink, even when the owner does everything right in terms of cleaning and removes their musk glands. Ferrets are exotic and expensive, and there are almost certainly better ways to spend your hard-earned salary.
Birds are so messy. I had a bird as a child, and their enclosure has to be cleaned daily. They smell bad, too.
Even as a young child, the chirping, fluttering wings, and other noises became annoying. I can’t imagine having to teach over the sound of a bird in the classroom! There’s also no way to leave a bird in its cage over the weekend.
Iguanas are arguably the worst class pet. They are very temperamental and require lots of environmental maintenance. You’ll be constantly fiddling with its tank to manage the humidity and temperature. They also require a difficult diet to maintain because they need lots of variety. Further, their limbs start breaking if they’re malnourished. Most vets will advise against iguana ownership even outside the classroom. They do not maintain a small size, either.
Iguanas don’t like to be handled and get stressed easily. Iguanas aren’t aggressive, but they will bite in self-defense. Their bites are very dangerous and painful. No teacher needs that kind of drama in their classroom!
The Benefits of Having a Class Pet
It can be so wonderful for kids to learn animal guardianship. Kids can take turns with feeding or cleaning the habitats as a classroom job. This builds ownership of the classroom environment and can foster community and social skills as they take turns caring for the animal.
Kids will also enjoy learning new vocabulary related to their animal and also discover more about an animal’s life cycle as it grows throughout the school year. Having a live animal in the room is a great way to offer natural learning experiences and expand your students’ horizons.
At the same time, teachers have a hard enough job already. Take care not to overcommit to difficult animals. You want to add a creature to your classroom that requires minimal care, so that it doesn’t become one more overwhelming task on your to-do list.