Sunday, September 23, 2012

Classroom Pets ~ Fish Edition!

 I love animals.  This is part of the reason why I love to have animals in my classroom.  Even if you're not really an "animal person," there are SO many great reasons to have a classroom pet.  Many students never get to have a pet of their own at home so this is their only 'pet' time, it builds interest in your classroom, they are great for writing about, kids learn responsibility by caring for them, develop empathy taking care of them, they get to learn about a new organism, develop their observation skills, you get additional inside jokes with your students, etc.  I have had about a dozen different species of animals in my classroom over the last few years.  I've already talked about my amazing bearded dragon, Chubbs, so this post will be devoted to the classic classroom pet- FISH!

I started with a tank of goldfish and added a few other community fish to their tank.  Visit your local petstore to find the perfect fish for you (I suggest starting with something easy like Tetras, ghost shrimp, etc).  There can be a bit of a start up cost for getting fish (buying the tank, gravel, filter, light, plants, food, etc), but try posting something on Craigslist.  That's how I was given two bearded dragons, a cichlid fish, an oscar fish, 2 goldfish, an eel, and a Chinese algae eater for FREE!  A lot of families lose interest in fish after they've had them for a few months, but they want to give them to a good home.  What better environment than a classroom where they will be loved and adored by 30 students each day and carefully cared for and examined.  Check in with your community to see if there's anyone wanting to rehome their fish.  You can also look around 2nd hand shops, like Goodwill, for a used tank, because they almost have a great setup for a very reasonable price.

 This is my favorite fish, perhaps of all time, because of his amazing eyes.  His name is Calico, and he is fabulous.  Look at that tail! Fan-tailed goldfish are great.  One of Calico's eyes is a regular yellow eye, while the other is all black.  My students love when I talk about Calico being my favorite fish in a fake-whisper voice (so the other fish won't hear and get jealous).  I also pet this fish (it started on accident when I was moving the plants around the tank the first time, and now purposefully every so often for fun). He shares the tank with three other goldfish and one Chinese algae eater.  All of these fish are Community fish, so they get along well.

 Think about a variety of fish that will go well together.  Fish are generally categorized as Goldfish/Community OR Semi-aggressive OR Aggressive.  Your local pet store can help you find compatible fish.  Below is Bubbles, a cichlid, who shares his tank with an eel.  Bubbles is the only fish I've ever known who routinely rearranges his tank.  I knew Bubbles was unique when I looked over after school one day to see him pulling one of his tank plants to the other side of his aquarium WITH HIS MOUTH!  Fung-shui is very important to Bubbles and other cichlids, and they make for cool pets.

Fish are great because they are very low-maintenance.  I probably do about 10 minutes of work per month to care for them, because one of our classroom jobs is ZOOKEEPER!  This is one of the few jobs that I have two students cover (Zookeeper 1 & 2), so one of the students can care for Chubbs and the other can feed the fish.  Then at the end of the day, the other student feeds the fish.  Besides feeding them, that's all the students do.  The only thing I need to do is clean their filters about once a month and possibly change out some of the water.  You'll need to clean them more frequently depending upon the size of your tank and the type of fish you have; goldfish are notoriously dirty fish.  Still, 10 minutes of work to provide your students with a great topic to write about, an easy thing to have them "teach," a fun new organism to write about, and another fun memory from your classroom is definitely worth it!  Post an ad on Craigslist and see if you can add a cool new living feature to your classroom for free!


  1. There is a grant available for teachers who have classroom pets or who would like to have classroom pets. It's called Pets in the Classroom and is available for Pre-K-8th grade teachers in the US and Canada. The grant provides up to $150 for the purpose of purchasing a new classroom pet and supplies or for supplies for your current classroom pet. It's easy to apply for and you can apply online at Hope you find this information helpful!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing that, Rachel! I'm going to try to apply for one to help cut the costs of our classroom menagerie. What a fantastic way to help students gain empathy, responsibility, and knowledge; classroom pets are great!