I LOVE pets in the classroom!!! However, they need to be a helpful addition, and not a hinderance.
My rules of a classroom pet:
1. Low maintenance – I’m responsible for the critters, therefore I don’t need to be spending a lot of time taking care of them. I’m talking about cleaning out the cage once a week (30 minutes) and making sure their food and water dishes are filled daily (5 minutes). I have a classroom full of kids that need my attention and I really don’t have the time to spend 30-60 minutes a day cleaning and taking care of the animals. Also, pets in the classroom are not the kid’s responsibility.
2. Kid friendly – Can the students hold the pet without being bitten or scratched? Are they fun to handle? Are they there for an educational purpose, even though they cannot be held or touched?
3. Noiseless – My first responsibility is to my students. If the kids are distracted by the noises of the animal, then it does not belong in your classroom.
4. Limits – 1. Limit yourself to a pet or two. Three or more get too crowded in a classroom. 2. Limit and have rules set up for the students. Will it be a part of your classroom management? Will the kids be allowed to play with them during their recess time? One rule I have is the kids are not allowed to play with the pet for the first week it is introduced (or the first week of school if it is already a classroom pet). This allows the pet to get accustomed to the environment.
Pets I will never have:
Hamsters – Many bite because they don’t have good eyesight, so when you put your hand down to pick them up and the smell of food is on your hands, they will bite.
Hermit crabs – Pinch and leave marks
Bunnies – Noisy (they tear up their bedding and like to kick it around during the day), smell, high maintenance (clean cage out every day)
Birds – Noisy, messy, high maintenance
Pets I might have in my classroom:
Chinchilla – I was unexpectedly given a chinchilla and everything to go with him. He was easily frightened at first, but the more time I spent with him, he became the most lovable pet I’ve ever had. Snickers, grey and pictured below, is by far, my most favorite pet. Omochi, white pictured below Snickers, was my second chinchilla. She wasn’t as cuddly as Snickers and I never felt comfortable allowing the students hold her. She loved hopping around in her ball and that’s the way the kids were able to enjoy her. *Know the personality of the chinchilla before you bring it into the classroom. Some are calm and like to be held, but they are known to be very active, don’t like to be held, and chew everything in sight!
Rosy boa – This guy has been a favorite of all my students! Rosy boas are known for their slow movements and “gentle” nature. I wouldn’t get just any snake. Ralph, pictured below, was a family pet until my brother went to college. Ralph has never struck at anyone and loves the warmth of the kids hands and curling up in the hood of a sweatshirt. Because of the nature of what and how boas eat, I make sure the kids have a handwritten note from their parents saying it is okay to watch Ralph eat. This is when I taught 5th grade…I don’t know if I would allow younger kids to watch. I’ve only had one girl freak out from watching. I called her mom just to let her know what happened and everything turned out just fine.
Frogs – We were studying life cycles and we were able to purchase the frog as a tadpole. The kids LOVED seeing the life cycle and watch him change.
Ladybugs – This was the same time we had the frogs. We received the ladybugs in larva form. We let the ladybugs go on the rosebush outside the classroom. Fun experience
Fish – I’ve had a 25 gallon fish tank in my classroom. I eventually took it out because I had two other pets I enjoyed more. It is a little more maintenance, but was wonderful when I had a student with severe ADHD. His favorite place to sit was at the aquarium and watch the fish. It would calm him down and help him focus. I initially brought the tank in because we had a huge unit on the ocean. It’s a great way to bring a little of what you are teaching into the classroom.