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Pets in the preschool classroom

PetsCaring for a small pet, such as a fish or reptile, can provide young children with the opportunity to learn more about animals firsthand. As preschool teachers, we know that young children are engaged and learn best by DOING. We can certainly teach about animals through books and pictures … but how much MORE will they learn when they can actually interact with one. They can learn about caring for animals and the responsibility that goes with it. For preschool programs, having a classroom pet provides a wonderful opportunity for learning about nature, science and living things.

At our preschool (and at my home), we have Betta fish, which have a low start-up cost and are very easy to take care of. At the beginning of the school year, we have the class name the fish – and that really helps to give the children ownership of the pet. One of the most favorite classroom jobs a child can have for the day is the “Fish Helper” – where it is their day to feed the fish. The Betta fish food are really tiny pellets, so it’s also a good fine motor skill for the children to pick up the pellets and put them into the tank.

I think children can learn a lot from seeing and interacting with living things. At various times during the year, we will also bring in special visitors who bring in some other animals that the children can learn about. During our summer camp, we even had some older children come in and share their pets with the preschoolers. This gave the children an opportunity to observe, touch and feel an animal they may not have seen before, or only seen in pictures.

Grants to bring pets into the classroom

Updates on a few grant programs to help teachers who want to bring in a pet into their classroom.

PetSmart is now offering a “Pets in the Classroom” grant for Pre-K through 6th grade teachers to cover all the expenses of a classroom pet. Teachers will also receive additional assistance with a PetSmart associate who can help them with the basics of pet care.

Teachers can visit www.petsmart.com/teachers to apply for the grant and learn about ways to incorporate a classroom pet into their curriculum. This section of the website also provides teachers with some lesson plan ideas, some of which can be adapted to fit into a preschool curriculum.

Petco also offers a

The Pet Care Trust helps to promote public understanding regarding the value of and right to enjoy companion animals, to enhance knowledge about companion animals through research and education, and to promote professionalism among members of the companion animal community.

Pets in the Classroom grants are offered to Pre-Kindergarten through Eighth grade classes only in both public and private schools.  These grants are intended to support pets or aquariums in the classroom for the purposes of teaching children to bond with and care for their pets responsibly.

Petco is also a partner with The Pet Care Trust, which supplies products and funding for classroom critters at low cost to schools, with no out of pocket supply cost.

Do you have a pet in your classroom? Other than fish and reptiles, what other types of pets would be good in a preschool classroom?



  • Claudia Quilez

    Hi, my 3 year old preschool is interested in getting a pet for the class ( something easy to take care of) and I wanted to get recommendations on what that could be.
    I will appreciate all suggestions.

    • Laura Eldredge

      Claudia .. we have used Beta fish in the classroom (shown in the picture) and they are very easy to take care of, and do not require a whole aquarium, as you can see from the pictures.

      I’d love to hear what other teachers have had as a classroom pet!

      • Holly

        I teach 3 year-olds and have had success with a goldfish. My tank is filtered but unheated. Not much more trouble than a betta and MUCH more active! The kids enjoy watching him, feeding him, and talking about the water and swimming! Good luck!

        • Laura Eldredge

          Holly .. Thanks for sharing your experience with having a goldfish in your classroom. We’ve only had betta fish at our school, but it sounds like a goldfish is just as easy. 🙂

          • Darby Porter

            I like the ease of having a fish for a class pet but worry about the short life span. Our school had an aquarium but the fish were always dying and having to be replaced. I am afraid that this would be traumatizing to my per-schoolers.

          • Laura Eldredge

            Hi Darby … I still recommend a Beta fish, as they can be easily replaced with a similar looking fish should it die after a short time. But I’ve had Beta fish last quite awhile with proper maintenance (regularly cleaning out the bowl and feeding). Other types of goldfish in an aquarium may require more care. I’d love to hear from others who have other types of fish in their classrooms!

  • Janie

    For the last 3 years we have had a dwarf rabbit in our VPK classroom. He has been great! Very gentle, not upset by noise, and is not a biter! He is almost 10 years old now (I inherited him from the previous VPK teacher), so he has lived a nice peaceful existance and is about to retire from his “public” life. His biggest minus has been having to clean his cage twice a week (too stinky to wait a whole week), and to make sure we get his nails trimmed regularly.

  • Whitney

    I agree hands on learning to have respect and love for creatures is a great idea but do your homework. Getting a pet for the class just to have one teaches nothing but irregard and poor animal husbandry. I’ve seen this a lot in classrooms. Know your animal, and the breed. Id say most defensive creatures would not do well but like Janie has, some animals are exceptions. Many reptiles live 25 to 50 years. Betty can be great, but they should be in a minimum of 5 gallons. They can live 7 plus years of well cared for. Goldfish are great but messy, keep in mind if they die right away you’re not doing it right, goldfish can live 10 to 15 years old EASILY if we’ll cared for. I just hope that we pass the responsibility and care of these creatures on to the children and not lackadaisical pet ownership.

    • Laura Eldredge

      Absolutely .. getting a pet for the classroom is a decision that requires much thought, planning and research. It is not right for every classroom situation or teacher. Thanks for your input.

  • Brandi Norton

    I have applied for the pets in the classroom grant and sustaining grant twice! They are very easy to work with and give you enough grant money to have a nice setup for your new pet! I am a avid rat fan for a preschool classroom. Rats are typically not biters ..unlike hamsters, they clean themselves, and you can litter box train them. They are tolerant of little proding hands and are pretty low cost maintence wise ( most suppplies can be made out of recycled materials).

  • hannes

    I just want to find out my kids is in a preschool were the teacher have cats in the classroom.and all the kids is lying on the sleeping mats and its full of cathair and the smell is not good in the classrooms.is it a haelth isue of what .need help

  • Bumblebees R Us Day Care Center

    Pets also help in shaping the behaviour of a child. It allows them to establish responsibility and commitment. And like what you mentioned in this post, interaction with living things is a learning experience for kids.

  • Cheryl Thompson

    I had a prek classroom for years and tried regular fish tanks but they were so much work. Finally I tried a fire bellied newt. So much better. It’s an amphibian so all it needed was a 10 gallon tank, terrarium cover, river rocks, 1/3 tank water, live plants, and an air strip. They ate the algae from the live plants and required no real care and the kids loved watching them walk on the rocks and swim around. Now that I’m the director of a daycare, I plan on getting one for one of the classrooms.

  • Savannah

    We have a dwarf bunny in our PK room. I’ve been a rescue/foster mom of 8 for the past 14 yrs. Our “farmer john” only comes out during centers(1 1/2 hrs) when its quiet. He is litter-box trained so there is no mess. Occasionally he’ll come out at the end of nap time as children are waking up/going home. The children love having him “wake them up” as he digs/paws and attempts to move the corner of their mat because its in his way! Parents have service hours they must complete, so hosting him for a weekend vay-cay is a great way for them to do that + learn a little about rabbits.

  • Nancy K

    I had worms as class pets once. The preschoolers loved them. I am trying hermit crabs this year.

  • Darby Porter

    I am a first year pre-K teacher. I would love to get a class pet, but need something low maintenance. We are in school Monday through Thursday. I have two classes one in the morning and one in the afternoon, each 2 1/2 hours. I don’t want something that will die quickly but will last and as I mentioned before is fairly low maintenance. I am thinking of a lizard or turtle. Do you think one of these would be a good choice or shou7ld I be looking at a furrier animal?

    • Laura Eldredge

      I find the Beta fish to be an extremely low maintenance classroom pet. And they can last a good amount of time as long as their water is changed on a regular basis. I think a lizard or turtle are also good alternatives for a classroom. Furrier animals require more care.

  • Brenda H.

    I purchased a pair of parakeets with a Pets in the classroom grant last year. Roxie and Louie are great pets with little care. With a seed/feather catching guard around the bottom the cage and corn cob litter in the bottom of the cage they are easily maintained. I scoop the litter a couple of times a week and change it out once a month. They even help with classroom noise, as I tell the kids if Roxie and Louie get loud then they are probably to loud. I really enjoyed having them at home over summer vacation as well.

  • Amy

    I was considering getting a chameleon as a classroom pet. Another teacher expressed concern over the kids getting salmonella, and I was curious as to the risk of that happening.

  • Angel

    Please don’t keep Bettas in a small container like that. Sure it will live but not for as long as they would in a better environment, it won’t be happy. Bettas would love mildly moving water with some plants.

  • Liz

    I was wondering if a turtle would be an good animal for a prek class or would it hide because of the noise?

  • Lisa

    If you get a Betta fish, be sure to get a proper aquarium for it. They need at LEAST 2.5 gallons of water, a heater (tropical fish), filter (one with gentle output), water conditioner, plants to hide in (soft ones that won’t rip their fins) and proper food. They are carnivores (eat bugs in the wild) so regular tropical fish flakes aren’t enough. A Betta Bed leaf to rest on would also be nice. Don’t forget, they need to be cared for over holidays as well. A larger tank is actually easier to care for. The pet stores do a terrible job of educating people about the actual needs of these fish. They are also notorious jumpers, so make sure your tank has a lid. As for those tiny tanks – you could live in a closet, but would you be happy? Teach the kids that having a pet is a life-long responsibility – otherwise, leave all animals out of the classroom. As educators, you really need to educate yourselves about the needs of any animal you plan to bring in. http://bettafish.org

    • Laura Eldredge

      Hi Lisa – Thanks for your thoughtful and insightful feedback! I agree that a lot of thought and consideration needs to be considered before bringing a pet into the classroom, and you added some great things to consider. Thank you!

  • Ely Puig

    When do you feed your Betta fish?? I was told (by Petco) they should be fed in the mornings and nights… But we are at school from 7am to 2:30 pm… I am still wondering what to do…

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