Sunday, January 13, 2013

Class Pets

Do you have class pets? I know it's an extra responsibility to take on, but students love having class pets and they get so much out of the experience!

My second year of teaching we hatched a Triop. They are pretty fascinating little prehistoric fish. If you are looking for an easy and interesting class pet, these guys fit the bill.

Three years ago there was a promotion for teachers to get a free hamster or gerbil as well as a free cage and start up supplies. I can't say no to free, so our class adopted gerbil Rue.

Rue has been an excellent pet. She has gone home with, I'm guessing, at least 50 families, and she is has surpassed the gerbil life expectancy of 2-3 years. Although she is still very active, her age is showing. I decided it was time to retire her just before the Christmas break, and she is loving her retirement home (my house). I promised my class that we would have a new pet(s) when they returned. 

I debated about what type of pet to get. Rue was easy to care for and the kids loved her. But my heart was telling me to go for something more fun, challenging, and engaging, and that meant rats. Ideally, I would love to get one rat, but it is highly recommended to keep rats in groups of two or more. So, my class has adopted a pair of female rats. Last week the class voted and their names are Pepper and Ginger (just the like the spices the early explorers were searching for in!)! They will be coming home with me on weekends for the next few weeks as we work on hand taming and litter training them. It's been so much more challenging (and stinky!) than a lone gerbil, but....BUT....they are so sweet and friendly! I've already gotten snuggles and kisses from them both. 

Pepper took a nap under my chin.

 Ginger loves crawling in my pocket. 

I'm pretty sure that our new principal is not thrilled about me keeping critters, but that isn't going to stop me. They are important to the students, and they are a big part of my classroom economy system (job, reward, etc.). I'm also thinking of having my students write research papers about pet rats to make their presence even more meaningful. 

It's only been a week with our new ratties. I've been sewing like mad to make liners and hammocks for their cages. I've learned that rats are much stinkier than gerbils, and they eat a lot more! But, we'll figure out how to make it work in our classroom. 

I thought I'd offer some tidbits of advice for those who are interested in getting a class pet...

1. Adoption is a commitment! Adopting a class pet is just like adopting a family pet. You will need to model proper care and do what ever it takes to keep a happy healthy pet. Consider the time and money that you will be investing. Just because the pet itself is inexpensive (rats run about $15 each) doesn't mean they are inexpensive pets. Rat cages run upwards of $60, food will cost about $10 a month, and don't forget all the toys and accessories! 

2. Do your research! I spent hours finding out about different critters and their needs. There are pros and cons to all options. Find out what animal best suits your time, budget, and age group. Understand what you will need to do to give your pet a confortable life. 

3. Start small! It's ok to start with "easier" pets. Hermit crabs, fish, Triops, tadpoles, might be better first time pets and then you can move up from there. Gerbils and hamsters are low maintenance, but they are nocturnal. This is a great guide of which pets are NOT suited for a classroom. 

4. Class pets are not for everyone! It's ok to say no to having a class pet. 

So, who out there has class pets? I'd love to hear more about your critter friends! 


  1. So fun!!!

    Some more advice on classroom pets...there is a grant available to pre-K through 8th grade teachers that helps fund classroom pets and their supplies. It is really easy to apply for and the application is The organization is called Pets in the Classroom.

  2. I saw your link to this post in your comment about my pets, so of course I had to check out your rats!

    I had two rats in my classroom for years! They were named Loki and Thor. They were both Berkshires. Unfortunately they both passed over the rainbow bridge about 2 years ago. Thor (my dumbo) was trained to sit happily on my shoulder, and both of them were even "litter" trained. They really do make awesome pets, though they do have to be cleaned up after a bit. Most people have a hard time getting past their tails, but their personality makes up for it.

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