A class pet is a highlight for many children. What child doesn't love spending some time at school interacting with these interesting, engaging creatures? Classroom pets can teach students compassion, serve as stress relief, and promote responsibility. However, if you choose the wrong pet, it could lead to disappointment or even disaster. The best classroom pets include axolotls, rats, fish, stick insects, and more. Use this list to find a pet for your classroom that won't break your back from cleaning and won't break your students' hearts.
Best Classroom Pets
With so many entertaining small pets to choose from, it can be challenging to pick the best pet for your classroom. This list of eight low-maintenance, docile, and fascinating pets is a great place to start!
If your students are into Minecraft, they'll be thrilled to discover their class pet is an axolotl. These soft-bodied salamanders can't be handled, so they're not a good choice if you're looking for a cuddly class pet. Still, axolotls are fascinating to watch and can even regenerate tissue. They live entirely submerged in water and are incredibly low-maintenance pets once you've established their ideal environment. However, axolotls are illegal to own in some states and require permits in others, so review your state's legislation first.
- Lifespan: 10 to 15 years
- Habitat: minimum 20-gallon aquarium
- Special considerations: can't be handled and sensitive to temperature fluctuations.
2. Fancy Rat
Rats are not the despicable, filthy rodents they're portrayed as in movies; they are actually very clean as well as affectionate. These small pets live 2 to 3 years, don't require much space in your classroom, and enjoy being handled. Because they need routine exercise, you can incorporate out-of-cage playtime into creative learning practices. Rats do need social interaction, so it may be necessary to get a second rat to keep this classroom pet from getting lonely.
- Lifespan: 2 to 3 years
- Habitat: minimum 24- by 12- by 12-inch cage
- Special considerations: needs regular exercise out of the cage and does best in pairs
3. Bearded Dragon
Of the many reptile types, bearded dragons are arguably the most docile. They are relatively slow-moving and have a calm demeanor, which means they'll tolerate handling well. Keep in mind, reptiles can carry Salmonella, so your students must practice proper hygiene after handling their beardie friend. These mini dinos need to be housed in a larger enclosure to thrive and have moderate care requirements, so they're not the easiest pet to maintain.
- Lifespan: 10 to 15 years
- Habitat: minimum 100-gallon terrarium
- Special considerations: can carry Salmonella
4. White's Tree Frog
Frogs make low-maintenance and adorable pets for the classroom, and the White's tree frog is one of the best for beginners. Your students can enjoy watching these small amphibians climb within their enclosure and, depending on their grade, can help with feedings. They're docile yet confident pets that tolerate handling better than most other frog species. However, as with any other amphibian, they can carry Salmonella, so have a hand-washing station nearby for yourself and your students. And no, they are not poisonous!
- Lifespan: 16 years
- Habitat: minimum 20-gallon terrarium
- Special considerations: males make a loud croaking sound during the breeding season, which can be distracting in the classroom
5. Syrian Hamster
Small yet mighty, a hamster is a great classroom pet. They don't need much space or attention, yet they can be very entertaining to watch. Of the hamster breeds, the Syrian hamster is typically the friendliest. When well socialized, these small rodents can be handled by older children and teens, though they can bite when provoked or frightened. And as with any small mammal, allergies to their fur or urine may be a concern.
- Lifespan: 2 to 3 years
- Habitat: minimum 19-square-inch cage
- Special considerations: they're crepuscular, so they may not be terribly active during the day
6. Stick Insect
Stick insects, sometimes called walking sticks, resemble green or brown twigs and can be kept as unique pets. These insects don't bite, though they are incredibly delicate and must be handled with care. A 15- or 20-gallon tank will give your classroom stick insect plenty of room to explore. Just make sure it's secure so your little sticks don't escape. These pets aren't typically available at most pet stores, so you might have to seek out an online exotic pet or reptile vendor to find one.
- Lifespan: 1 to 1½ years
- Habitat: 15- to 20- gallon terrarium
- Special considerations: they have very delicate bodies, so handling isn't advised
7. Freshwater Nano Aquarium
Fish are classic classroom pets, and for good reason. They don't trigger allergies, they can be relatively low maintenance, and watching fish has been proven to reduce anxiety. If you're looking for something more exciting than goldfish or guppies, a nano tank can accommodate stunning freshwater fish. You may even end up with some fry if you choose livebearing species, such as platys or mollys.
- Lifespan: 1 to 5 years
- Habitat: 10 gallons or more
- Special considerations: transporting a large aquarium may be challenging; freshwater nano aquariums are typically 10 gallons or less, though, and should be relatively easy to relocate, if needed
8. Greek Tortoise
A tortoise can be a good choice if you're just starting your teaching career and want a long-lived classroom pet. Greek tortoises remain small and generally don't reach more than 8 inches long, which makes them a good choice for a classroom. However, they do have a longer lifespan than many other breeds. These slow-moving creatures can partake in supervised play indoors with the students, or outdoor in an area like a lawn, field, or courtyard.
- Lifespan: 50 years or more
- Habitat: minimum 12 square feet of enclosure space
- Special considerations: tortoises have long lifespans and can carry Salmonella, so proper hygiene is paramount
Considerations When Choosing a Classroom Pet
Before you pick a pet for your classroom, keep these factors in mind.
- Space requirements: Even if your pet of choice is tiny, it's important to review their space requirements. Some little rodents, like gerbils, need a large, deep enclosure so they can burrow. Measure out how much space you have, and don't forget to consider the weight of the completely assembled cage or aquarium.
- Lifespan: Some pets can live much longer than others. Consider whether you'll be able to commit more than a decade together if you choose a tortoise or another long-lived pet. On the other hand, if you pick a pet with a shorter life span, prepare for the possibility that they could pass during the school year.
- Husbandry: While some small pets are low-maintenance, others can be very challenging to care for. Consider how much energy you're willing to dedicate to the upkeep of this pet, or whether you can delegate these tasks to your students to promote responsibility -- but be sure to review pet care chores, to make sure classroom pets are receiving the attention the need.
- Cost: You'll need to factor in the price of the pet itself, the cost of your tank set-up, plus food and any supplements they'll need. Adopting a small pet can help offset the initial cost, and you'll save a life in the process.
- Care during breaks: If a pet needs daily care, make a plan for weekends and longer breaks. Will you take the pet home or check on them yourself? Will you have students volunteer to care for the pet (with their parent's permission)?
- Cultural beliefs: Your students' culture or religion could impact which pets they can interact with. For example, Navajos can't touch snakes or watch them shed or eat, so a snake may not be an appropriate classroom pet choice.
What Is the Best Pet for a Classroom?
Bringing a pet into your classroom can offer your students so many new learning opportunities. But it's essential to remember any pet is a lifelong commitment, and you're ultimately responsible for the welfare of this animal. Choose the one you feel confident caring for in and outside the classroom. Balance the fun and engagement of a classroom pet with learning opportunities, and your classroom will reap the rewards!