Considering keeping a class pet? Here are some things to think about before you make the decision to bring a live animal into your classroom.

The pros of keeping a class pet

1. Your students will learn something about responsibility. You can rotate the feeding schedule of your class pet so that every day (or week), someone new is in charge of feeding your classroom friend. For an entire day or week, a single child could be fully in charge of the pet. They can perform a variety of tasks including feeding the pet, caring for the pet, and helping to clean the pet’s living space (depending on what sort of pet you keep).

2. Some students might not be allowed to have pets at home, and having a class pet will help them to experience something they would never have been able to experience without having a class pet. This will help them to experience new emotions, learn new skills, and understand the feeling of having a dependent.

3. You can bring math and science to life by keeping a class pet. Here’s an example of how you can make a unique math journal prompt for your class about your class pet: “If Chilly, our hamster, eats 30 pellets of food a day, how many pellets does he eat in one week?”

4. Students will learn about respect and commitment through helping to take care of their class pet. As they watch the pet grow and change they will see and understand the correlation between a pet and other living beings. This could help them to learn empathy and compassion.

The cons of keeping a class pet

1. Someone has to clean up after the pet! Even the cleanest pet will require some extra work from you or from the kids in your classroom (though the ultimate responsibility rests on you, the teacher.

2. The pet may die in your care, and if it does, you’ll have to console your students and explain to them the not-much-fun concept of death. Some may not see this con as a negative, however, as going through this unhappy experience will help your students to understand the cycle of life, and help them to cope with death when it occurs in their own private lives.

3. You’ll have to pay for food and equipment needed for your class pet. However, there do exist organizations, like Pets in the Classroom, that offer grants to help subsidize teachers and educational institutions to keep a pet in the classroom.

4. You’ll have to take it home on weekends and holidays and care for your class pet in between school days, or find someone else who can do this for you.

5. Some of the children in your class might have allergies, and might be allergic to certain pets. Children can be allergic to hamsters or gerbils, for example. this is something that would have to be taken into account if you are going to have your class care for a furred class pet.

Alternatives to a class pet

If you’re not quite ready to purchase and keep a pet in your classroom, there are some ways that your students can experience what it is like to have a class pet without undergoing the full experience. Here are some viable alternatives:

1. Borrow a neighbor’s pet for the week and allow your students to experience caring for it for a short period of time. You might even bring in a different friend’s pet each week: an iguana, a bunny, fish, a dog, and so on. You can then tie your science and math lessons to the new pet that is visiting your classroom for the week. Using this method, the students can learn a lot about a lot of different pets during a school semester or term.

2. You can ask a pet store if they would let you undergo a trial period with one of their pets to see if keeping it might work out in your classroom. This would give you an opportunity to see if you and your students want or are ready to make the full commitment to keeping a pet in your classroom.

3. They may not be as fun as class pets, but keeping plants in the classroom can also help students learn about caring for living creatures, proper food and nutrition, and the cycle of life, death and rebirth through growing new plants from seeds harvested from older plants.

Types of pets that make good class pets

Qualities of a good class pet are: cheap, small and hardy!

Examples of some good choices for class pets:

  • Hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs make great pets because they are soft, furry and funny, especially if you buy a running wheel for them to exercise on. Kids love to watch them at play!
  • Fish are also great, especially Betta fish, as they require less cleaning of their environments and are a very hardy fish. Just remember not to keep more than one Betta fish in a single aquarium at one time! They aren’t called Siamese Fighting Fish without good reason.
  • Reptiles also make great class pets, but make sure to get one that is not poisonous and does not require a very specific environment that needs to be regulated with care. It is important to find a pet that is simple and fun to take care of.

Best of luck with making your decision whether or not you and your students should make the commitment to keep a class pet! If you do decide to keep a pet in your classroom, I hope that you and your students enjoy and benefit from caring for it.