Life Science

Pet in the classroom

I am going to have a guinea pig as a classroom pet for the first time in the Fall. It is very exciting to see how the behavior of this small animal can stimulate inquiry. I will be teaching a total of 6 hours (3 Life Science and 3 Earth/physical science classes). With roughly 20 students in each class, I am trying to figure out how to give my students fair chances to spend time with the pet, perhaps help with feeding, holding, etc., while they can still focus on other activities and tasks in the classroom. I appreciate any suggestions/comments and sharing of your experiences in regards to managing a busy middle school science class with a cute, cuddly animal in it.

Shay Motalebi
Shay Motalebi
1625 Activity Points

Hi Shay,
I applaud your efforts to make your classroom an inviting and engaging place in which to learn with the addition of a pet. I thought you might want to read this article about classroom pets from our Science Safety guru Scope on Safety: Animals in the Classroom
He provides some helpful tips to make the experience safe as well as rewarding.
Here's another one of his articles: Responsible Use of Live Animals in the Classroom
Best wishes for a great new school year!
Carolyn

Carolyn Mohr
Carolyn Mohr
86483 Activity Points

Shay, your students will love having a classroom pet. I’ve had many over my years of teaching and my middle school students have loved them a bunch. It would be easy for you to set up the rules for “fairness”, but you might consider letting the classes have a discussion on how they want to see the fairness issue dealt with. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the alternatives all of the classes come up with. One of my peers had an albino corn snake that she brought into the classroom. While the kids enjoyed the snake immensely, some more than others, all learned the values of respecting a live object. One of the favorite activities was to come up with a name for the snake, it ended up being Pepe. The students had to come up with the name they thought would be appropriate along with a written argument for their choice. This went across all class periods. Students were allowed to see the names nominated, and ultimately voted on the top choices to determine the winning name. I think it would have been fun for the folks that had the top five names to have to give an oral argument for their name choice supported with evidence, video tape the arguments, then show them across all the periods before the final vote. One thing I would caution you on though, before bringing the pet in, you need to find out if any of your students have allergies to a guinea pig. More and more we are seeing students with life threatening allergies to classroom pets. If the pet is brought into the environment and a student has issues, then you could be in trouble. The other side of the coin is, if the pet is brought in and then has to be removed, the student that has the allergies may become the target of bad feelings by the others because the pet is no longer there. Carolyn has suggested several resources that are outstanding. I look forward to hearing what you ultimately come up with.

Sandy Gady
Sandy Gady
43095 Activity Points

Thank you so much for your great tips and advice. I wrote a letter to our school nurse today to see if she knows of any students with furry pet allergies on file. I may have to hold off bringing in the guinea pig until the school year begins to ask my students about that. I like the idea of consulting my classes for their ideas on fairness. I will let you know how it will go. Again, thanks for taking the time to give me your input and the link to the article..

Shay Motalebi
Shay Motalebi
1625 Activity Points

Hi Shay-

You may want to check out www.PetsintheClassroom.org. On the website, can you apply for a grant to help fund your classroom pet. Check it out!

Rachel Van
Rachel Van
20 Activity Points

Hi Shay-

You may want to check out www.PetsintheClassroom.org. On the website, can you apply for a grant to help fund your classroom pet. Check it out!

Rachel Van
Rachel Van
20 Activity Points

I'm not certain that the health person may have information to give you about allergies. Allergies can be developed at any time, and may not be present in health screenings, but present once the animal is in the classroom. For many students in the primary grades, allergies may not be fully documented - even students with allergies may not be tested until later. For instance, we had a pretty good idea that my daughter was allergic to cats early on - her daycare provider had a lovely cat, and we needed to change providers. We were not aware of the guinea pig, dog, etc allergies until she turned five. But she is not allergic to other furry critters, including mice, rats, and horses. Likely, the child will not know until he or she is exposed, and then it might be too late. If you do have pets in the classroom, please be sure to have ready access to cleaning supplies, don't allow kids to put fingers in their mouths, nose, or eyes. Wash hands and face immediately after handling pets. Also, some students are sensitive to the bedding used for small rodents, especially cedar and any dusty materials. I really hate to be so negative; personally, I think every classroom needs a pet - it brings out the nurturing skills in even the "tough" kids. It is also wonderful for observation. This may sound a little odd, but you might want to consider adding a worm bin to your classroom for observation. Amazingly, they also are very interesting to watch, and allow kids to learn about habitats. They are amazingly simple to take care of, have a simple diet of leftover fruits and veggies, and can be transported home easily at the end of the year. I have found a student allergic to worms, but cleaning and hand-washing practices are highly recommended. I know they are not furry, but they do make great classroom pets. As an added bonus, no one must take them home over breaks, and the probability of them making a getaway and hiding in the walls is negligible. I also like the idea of the corn snake. Typically they do not carry parasites that might be dangerous to student health. Just my two cents.

Jennifer Rahn
Jennifer Rahn
67935 Activity Points

Hi Shay!! That is awesome!! I'm sure your students will be VERY captured by your classroom pet! Again, as many have already added, please be aware of the regulations though regarding live animals in the classroom. I've stuck to fish because of the many regulations that exist, especially allergies as mentioned by others. The other is the spread of diseases and bacteria, molds, etc... I'd say though, that after the logistics, it will be VERY worthwhile as your students will be engaged and thrilled!! Lucky them!!

Rochelle Tamiya
Rochelle Tamiya
4085 Activity Points

Hi Rochelle, I agree. There are many rules and regulations for a classroom pet. I too, only have fishes as our classroom pet. My co-teacher and I would love to have a rabbit or a turtle but we can't for many reasons such as allergies. It would be fun to incorporate the life cycle of fish. I need to research the local fishes in the area and find out more information about their life cycle. It would be a great lesson plan before we have a field trip to the aquarium. Alicia

Alicia Mochizuki
Alicia Mochizuki
1470 Activity Points

Hi Alicia!! Regarding the fish in our classrooms.....I used to have goldfish as I thought they would be the most "personal" for my classroom, however, they are a high maintenance fish when it comes to cleaning and feeding. One year, I also did tetras....kind of boring for me. This year, I finally gave in to the basic guppies and guess what? They are turning out to be the most interesting!!! It started with me buying some for my own sons at home. We bought 2 females and about 4-5 males (fan tails) and couple of days later, the female had babies. This made us research on the internet the gestation and birthing of guppies which my son was just so captured by. Did you know that guppies can store sperm for up to 8 births? Crazy huh? You'd think that as a Life Science teacher, this would be basic information but unless you actually get a tank and do it yourself, really??? So anyway, my tank in school now has a bunch of elodia and potted water plants in it (30 gallon) with a running filter. I have 3 females and about 5-6 males in the tank. I had babies the first week of school and they are growing every day. My students love just stopping by the tank to watch the growth of the babies and see the beautiful males. The cool part is that they are pretty tough survivors (as they don't get fed over the weekend and stay in a dark class room) and they keep having babies so when students ask to take some home, you really don't mind (as long as parents/guardians grant the permission)....have fun!!

Rochelle Tamiya
Rochelle Tamiya
4085 Activity Points

....by the way Alicia, reports also state that guppies have a 28 day gestation...you could have babies every month!!!! haha!

Rochelle Tamiya
Rochelle Tamiya
4085 Activity Points

My daughters teacher did something cool. They had a guinea pig and every weekend the guinea pig would go home with someone different. They would also take home a journal that they would write in about the guinea pig. The journal and Guinea pig stayed together. They eventually had a nice little catalog of the Guinea Pigs journey. Nice tie to writing, tying school to home. Not sure how she worked out the logistics but the kids really seemed to enjoy their pet.

Kellee Kelly
Kellee Kelly
7800 Activity Points

Hi Shay, I'm going to second many comments already made. I've had numerous animals over the years in my classroom (about the only thing I haven't had are large mammals). Guinea pigs and rats make fabulous pets but I have had kids allergic to the guinea pig fur (and they shed when on a table---they also defecate on tables so all surfaces will have to be cleaned). Occasionally an animal would bite a student (usually because it was handled too roughly). That happened maybe once or twice a year but always involved the student being sent to the nurse and a phone call home to explain the situation. The animals did go home with students over long weekends which was a great opportunity for developing responsibility in students. Perhaps prior to bringing in the animal you might want to survey parents to make sure it is okay? You have a lot of students so that could be an issue. Perhaps it is something you could also mention at open house. By the way, I have noticed a correlation between student allergic to cats and guinea pigs. I also have kept quite a few reptiles and amphibians in my classroom. I don't recommend amphibians because they really shouldn't be handled. The reptiles make good classroom pets. They don't have to be fed often which means they don't defecate as much and they do not cause allergies. You do have to make sure students wash their hands or use hand sanitizer to prevent contracting salmonella which many reptiles carry in their digestive systems. Good starter reptiles include corn snakes (easiest animal EVER), bearded dragons, and leopard geckos (My lizards bit once or twice, but remember that all animals bite if feel threatened). Since I've moved out of my science class I've downsized and currently only have an adorable Russian tortoise who the kids like to take on walks. Best of luck with whatever you decide to do---an animal in the classroom is a wonderful opportunity for helping to develop responsibility and ownership. Just make sure the animal is not stressed in a classroom situation (which can happen). I'll be curious to know how it all works out!

Patty McGinnis
Patricia McGinnis
25580 Activity Points

@ Rochelle: Cool. I didn't know guppies could reproduce so quickly. Thanks for the information. @ Kellee: We used to send home the fish with a student every Friday but sometimes on Monday we'd have less fish :(. And it stresses the fishes out because they need to adjust to the water temperature before they are put in and out of different fish bowls.

Alicia Mochizuki
Alicia Mochizuki
1470 Activity Points

Shay, I love that you are bringing pets into your classroom. I have always had LOTS of pets...you name it, I have probably had it at one time or another. But, there are responsibilities with any pet.The first thing I did was to take a Saturday workshop put on by my Region Center, "Pets in the Classroom". This was a very valuable class, having a course designed for classroom pets-what animals are "safe", maintenance problems associated with any animals in a classroom, legal issues to be knowledgeable about, and ways animals can add to lessons. I've had mice, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs,rabbits, ferrets, sugar gliders, chinchillas, prairie dogs, ducks, homing pigeons, peacocks, chickens, parrots, lots of different types of lizards, turtles & tortoises, and of course insects. My favorite animals are hissing cockroaches & meal-worms (both easy to care for and lots of lessons can be used with them as the topic),lizards (bearded dragons & leopard geckos are great-however, do not have iguanas-too dangerous or chameleons-to delicate for a classroom), turtles & tortoises (one of my favorite is one or two small red-ear sliders in an aquarium up front in the classroom with a water filter-mesmerizing...full of inquiry-stye questions). I do not not care for birds...to messy, smelly and rules and regulations about birds are in effect in many counties & states. I do borrow chicks or small chickens from local farmers-one per lab table in small cages, when we are doing Classification. I return the fowl as soon as we finish the Unit. I love the students discovering the scales found on their legs instead of feathers. I always also keep my animals at my home for at least one week to observe them before allowing the students to interact with them. Also, do not forget to send home a letter to parents explaining what animals you have in their classroom (unknown to the school are allergies or in one case, an irrational fear of grasshoppers). I am not to fond of mammals either because of their high maintenance and smell-plus the fact...they bite. I hope you find that animals can become an exciting part of your curriculum...think Hamster in an exercise ball-speed investigations.

Sue Garcia
Sue Garcia
42665 Activity Points

Hi Shay - Have you already gotten the guinea pig? I am interested if so in how students are responding to it now. I have an axolotl at home (it's like a tiger salamander) but I don't think I can bring it to school because it needs to be fed at least once every two days... If I were to bring a pet into the classroom though, I would like the students to have a sense of ownership and also share some responsibility in taking care of it. Have you done that? Maybe you can have a rotation schedule where one group of students is responsible for feeding it, maybe cleaning, etc. A few of the kids might actually like it. Have they given it a name?

Loren Nomura
Loren Nomura
4055 Activity Points

Hello, Although I am not a teacher, I am hoping to be one and I have some suggestions. It must be very exciting for the students because I have never heard of any classroom having a guinea pig as a pet. I remember only having pet fish in my classrooms. In elementary school, our fifth grade class had a fish tank filled with several fish and I remember during class time, I would always daze off and stare at them. Since a guinea pig is a more interesting pet than fish, I would predict that most of the students would pay more attention to the pig than learning. The middle schools may be more mature than fifth graders, so hopefully they will not be as distracted. A suggestion could be placing the pet in the back corner of the room so that the students are paying more attention to the front of the class. Also, the pet may make some noise so this could cause distractions. I really like your idea of going beyond the normal class pet. I hope your students enjoy the new class pet and I hope the guinea pig attracts more students in learning science. -Catherine

Catherine Lee
Catherine Lee
2720 Activity Points

When I was in first grade, my teacher allowed the class to have a bunny rabbit. As the suggestions above have stated, the animal will be distracting. Each morning Mrs. Lynch allowed us to play with the bunny during homeroom which allowed us to get the distraction out of our systems.Each week one student was responsible for feeding the rabbit and making sure it had fresh water. The bunny was also allowed to hop around the classroom during the lesson and if he sat near your desk you were allowed to pet him once. If the bunny became too much of a distraction, he was put in his crete and the curtain around him was closed. Mrs. Lynch made these rules clear during the first week of school before the bunny was brought in. After, the rules were strictly followed and consequences enforced. If the bunny acted in a funny way or made a funny noise, Mrs. Lynch encouraged us to laugh for a few minutes and move on. I think you should allowed your students time to play with the animal so they have that initial excitement out of the way. Making stutendets responsible for the animal is also a great way to involve students and make them aware of animal needs. Acknowledge the distraction and your students will see past them!

Julianna Walsh
Julianna Walsh
2190 Activity Points

Wow, a guinea pig sounds great! I'm sure the students will love having a pet in their class! As a response to Sue, I am amazed at how many creatures that you have in your classroom! :D FUN!!! I, on the other hand, have a hard time caring for critters and keeping them alive. :S Right now, I have mealworms. They are wonderful!!!! Easy to take care of. No real allergy problem with my sensitive students. Very clean. Their life cycle is quick and easy to observe. They are also pretty resilient. :D

Kelly Asato
Kelly Asato
3820 Activity Points

I have had goldfish in my classroom for years. This year I can't seem to keep them alive. Every one of them has died and I don't know the reason. I took a water sample to the pet store to have it analysed and it was a little low on PH. I added some and they still died. Right now I am considering getting guppies or letting my tank rest for a while.

Barbara Sohler
Barbara Sohler
1040 Activity Points

Hi Shay,I would suggest you set up a job bank. This job bank would work to fairly delegate responsibility using criteria you set, similar to picking a line leader. If you have 6 classes you will have at least 6 jobs if not a few more. The first and last class of the day may have an extra job as necessary, such as feeding or cage cleaning. Of course you would need to figure out a list of tasks that fits with your school’s daily schedule. Students could be selected alphabetically, rotating boys and girls, or you can make it a reward based system. If you make it a reward, the students will be motivated to reach the standards you set for them since they all want the chance to interact with and take care of the guinea pig. The reward criteria could be objective, such as best quiz score or early finisher, or subjective such as good behavior or best effort. If you choose a reward system just be prepared to take care of the guinea pig yourself if no student achieves the standards you have set that day. Best of luck.

Jillian Rose
Jillian Rose
3585 Activity Points

Hello Shay and all, As many of you have shared, having class pets are hands-on ways for students to learn many things about living creatures besides humans. My preschool children have learned many complex scientific concepts just by having other living things in the classroom. For example, my preschool students have learned about life cycles through their experience with caterpillars. Throughout our butterfly theme, the students continue collecting data in their butterfly journals and draw their observations. As we learn about life cycles, I read stories about the life cycles of other living things including humans, animals, and plants (which they've usually already learned about during our October planting of pumpkin seeds). As a group, we compare and contrast the life cycles of these different types of living things. Another concept we can compare and contrast are the different things that living things need to survive. With plants, my young students learn that water, soil, and sunlight are all that is needed. With classroom pets, such as the tetras and hermit crabs I've had in my preschool classrooms, we learn about different homes, different foods, etc. It is wonderful to see how very young children learn very complex concepts through fun and engaging activities. I believe that if teachers taught older students in a way that brought science to life, the way we must do for our young scientists, as opposed to learning from textbooks and worksheets, all students may be more engaged and may more easily learn necessary concepts. For example, learning about elements through a song is easier than trying to learn/memorize elements from a worksheet. Science encourages us to learn through exploration and experimentation. Classroom pets are a hands-on and relevant way to teach students about different aspects of life such as life cycles, basic needs, etc.

Lilian Franklin
Lilian Franklin
945 Activity Points

Personally, I am very hesitant with any animal. My parents never allowed me to have a pet and now look at me, scaredy-cat. But believe it or not, I have classroom pets. I do have fish and I also have mice. They are easy for me to manage with all my "hidden" fears. I send home a thorough permission slip to each parent and communicate clearly with the options their child has in participating with the "care" of the class pets. I'm so happy to say that enough parents agreed to have their child "mousey-sit" so I send them to the student's homes quite frequently! One parent even requested to have the two sister mice for spring break. How happy that makes me! Our school uses the Imagine It language arts curriculum and after we went through the story "Tillie and the Wall" (tillie is a mouse) I then brought in the 2 sister mice for our classroom pet. Students went crazy with excitement. The third quarter in my school is also when we focus on plants and animals and thus I am able to incorporate our 2 mice, Carrie and Kiki into multiple learning lessons with common core standards. I plan to send them home with a student "forever" and next year I will get new mice for my new classroom. Maybe I'll get brave and try another pet. I always do fish and caterpillars/butterflies. I welcome parents to bring in their home pet for show and tell every year. On a side note, for my own children I have allowed them pets: dog, cat, guinea pig, rabbit, mice, fish, turtle. My own children don't really know that I am scared, I just do my best to give them the responsibilities and then I don't have to touch them.

Sandra Naihe
Sandra Naihe
605 Activity Points

To jump on the Guppie discussion...I started out the year with a 30 gallon tank and 4 guppies...I ended up with about 40..occasionally I'd buy another male or female to introduce new genes into the "pool." Interestingly as well, Guppies will only give birth if their habitat can support it. For example, 45ish was the limit of my tank. If one died, another was born. I'd been told this by another teacher and wanted to test it...so I took 6 out one day...within 2 days there were 6 babies in the tank. It's pretty crazy when you really get down and think about it.

Chris Leverington
Chris Leverington
4015 Activity Points

Chris, that is fascinating. Do you incorporate any kind of discussions about carrying capacity in regards to the numbers of fish in your tank?

Patty McGinnis
Patricia McGinnis
25580 Activity Points

I never did because I didn't get the tank until long after we had talked about it. I could have brought it up, but didn't :(

Chris Leverington
Chris Leverington
4015 Activity Points

In all reality, watch out for bites from these soft cuddly creatures. These can unexpectedly put a healthy gash into even adult fingers. My husband suffered from a good chomp when he tried to capture our escapee (clever thing got out very unexpectedly). However, it seems like the proper handling of these could allow for great animal behavior studies.

Michele Bloomquist
Michele Bloomquist
2395 Activity Points

I love the idea of a classroom pet. My cooperating teacher, who teaches fifth grade science, has pet fish. In order to get all of the students’ opportunity to spend time with their class pets, she gives the students jobs. She has a student feed them, observe changes from day to day, turning on and off the lamp, etc. These jobs are on rotation allowing each student the opportunity to interact with the class pet. I think that assigning these jobs also gives them a sense of ownership to the classroom pet as well. It also takes a lot to keep up with class pets, so by having these jobs it makes your job easier.

Jaime Newman
Jaime Newman
1395 Activity Points


Hi Jaime,

I have always seen classroom pets in early elementary classrooms, however, your post has made me consider pets in the classroom for older students, too. What a great idea! I think students in older grades need to learn responsibility even more than students in younger grades because with age comes responsibility. I love the idea of giving students jobs to interact with and help take care of the pet. I have always seen classroom job boards at my placements for things like line leader or paper passer. I bet one of these could be adapted to fit with the jobs for the class pet. Does your CT use something like this? Or do the students know what needs to be done and simply accomplish those tasks? The independence of fifth grade is something I am still trying to get used to after spending so much time in ECE, so the older students might not need a job board for this! At my last placement, in third grade, the students were researching for a debate about pets in the classroom and through preparing for those activities I stumbled upon an article about how classroom pets teach students about responsibility and other life lessons. Here is the link if you wanted to check it out! https://www.petsintheclassroom.org/classroom-pets-teaching-children-about-responsibility/. The website has other great information about having a classroom pet like certain grant programs which would help with the cost! I think a classroom pet is a great way to foster a sense of community which is something teachers are always striving to achieve. The classroom pet gives students something to care for together and bond over. Great ideas presented in your post! Thanks for sharing.

Kayla Herman

Kayla Herman
Kayla Herman
1575 Activity Points

Kayla-

I agree that older grades need to learn even more responsibility! It is amazing how much responsibility a pet can give students. Jobs are such a great way to give students responsibility. It also gives the students the chance to interact with the class pet. I do think, however, that there should be set times for the students to do these jobs. For example; in the morning, after lunch, or before they leave. Hopefully this will help the students not get as distracted during the day. When I was in second grade, we had a TON of classroom pets. We had fish, turtles, snakes, and mice. It was defiantly hectic at times, but I remember how strict she was with procedures in the first part of the school year. We all got strict instructions with our jobs, and it was kind of treated like a 3 strikes you’re out. If you showed that you were not responsible enough to have a classroom job being a pet helper, she changed your job to a normal classroom job until you showed you could be responsible with your actions. I think this taught me so much responsibility as a young child. I would love to have a classroom pet in my future classroom. I think it would be fun for everyone! There are also many different standards we could tie into having a classroom pet! Thanks for sharing your ideas!

Allison Finkbeiner

Allison Finkbeiner
Allison Finkbeiner
1130 Activity Points

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