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Easy Classroom Pets

Updated on September 14, 2014

"Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming." - quote from Dory, Finding Nemo

I waited three years to set up an aquarium in my elementary classroom. Now I wonder why I waited so long. Adding an aquarium to your school classroom is one of the easiest ways to introduce a class pet, talk about the life cycle, discuss procedures, bestow a job that teaches responsibility, and any other relevant content that is appropriate for your age group of students. If your into feng shui, running water represents good fortune, and we could all use a little of that. I think I took so long to do it because at the end of the day, I am a teacher, not a marine biologist. I was a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of figuring out chemical balances, types of fish to keep, temperatures, filter sizes, tank sizes, food, and where do I keep them. I was also scared that the kids would walk into the room one morning and find a green tank with bloated belly up fish. Not exactly a how you want to start the day.

Tips for Setting Up Your Own Aquarium

If you have decided on a fish as a pet, the real difficulty in choosing the type of fish, salt or fresh water, tank size, real or fake plants, filters, heating, lighting, etc. is this: How much work are you willing to add to your already hectic schedule? For me, the answer was simple, not much. You can put as little or as much work into the aquarium as you want. I teach, so I know there isn't enough time in the day to cover the mandates set forth by the bureaucrats. Why would I add extra work to my schedule? I did it because I felt that it would be wonderful for my students. I told them that we were going to get a class pet and from that day on there was no going back. Maybe it was a subconscious way of prodding myself into taking the plunge. I haven't been disappointed yet. Our class pet is unintrusive and calming. Throughout the day, I will find various students peering through glass and smiling.

You will find all sorts of ways to use the aquarium as a point of reference. I like the math and art aspects. We weigh gallons of water, multiply the tank size to figure out how heavy the tank is, find items that equal the weight of a fish, place thermometers in the tank to learn about temperature, sketch our fish; use your creativity and the possibilities are endless.

Now, before you go out and spend money out of your own pocket, (I know you've done that) send home or email a wish list to your parents. I was fortunate to receive a used, but usable, tank and filter from a parent who had it sitting in her attic for 15 years. I Googled the manufacturer name / serial number / model number and found instructions for how to set up all of the equipment. I conditioned the water and two days later introduced our pet fish.

If you aren't fortunate enough to receive the materials, check with a local pet store or Wal-Mart. I have had success in walking into our local retailers and asking for the manager. After you tell them where you work and what you are looking for, you may be pleasantly surprised. Don't forget to mention that they (or you) can label the tank as a donation from XYZ Pet Shop and will recognize them at a school assembly if they would like to join you (it's great advertising for them). Always write a big thank you note, have the kids help, and don't be surprised to see it posted on a store wall when you go back in the next time.

I opted for the easiest, lowest maintenance aquarium setup that I could figure out. Given the items that were donated, that meant fresh water goldfish, fake plants, a couple of decorative castles, and a filter. A filter is not totally necessary, but helps keep the tank clean and the fish healthy, which equals less maintenance on your part.

Checklist for successfully introducing aquarium fish into your classroom

1. Acquire the tank, filter (optional), decorative tank items like bottom gravel, fake plants, or other items (these could be simple items that your students bring, just make sure you wash them thoroughly first - the kids love to see their contribution.)

2. Location: Water is heavy! Depending on how large your tank is, be careful to find good support for your fish tank, you don't want it toppling over on a curious little scientist. Find a spot in your classroom that will be relatively undisturbed, but still accessible for the students' enjoyment. Don't forget an electric outlet for the filter / light.

3. Fill the tank with clean water, tap water works just fine.

4. Set the procedures for your classroom pet, mainly no hands or foreign objects in the water and who is going to feed your fish and when.

5. Condition the water with an aquarium water conditioner.

6. Do not introduce your pet fish right away, wait for the required time suggested by the conditioner. I waited two days just to be safe.

7. Acquire your fish. Place them in the aquarium in the bag that you received them in for at least half a day. This will let the temperatures adjust and make the transition less stressful for your fish.

8. Post a daily / weekly / monthly checklist to ensure your fish are properly cared for. My checklist includes the feeding schedule, cleaning / conditioning schedule, and which student is responsible for the items.

I kept it simple and have been more than happy. I wish you good fortune with your own classroom fish!

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    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 5 years ago from Australia

      I've never had fish in an aquarium, but I know I would love it. We have stick insects which I found very educational. Occasionally we give some away to preschools and other homeschoolers.

    • anusk1313 lm profile image

      anusk1313 lm 5 years ago

      Great lens .... I'm planning to get an aquarium and some coloured fishes this Christmas and your lens really helpen me getting more information

    • MyTimeAlone profile image

      MyTimeAlone 5 years ago

      Thanks for the tip Rachel

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      You and your readers may want to check out You can apply to receive a grant for up to $150 for the purchase of a classroom pet and supplies. It's for Pre-K - 6th grade teachers in the US and Canada.

    • wolfie10 profile image

      wolfie10 5 years ago

      very nice i want a fish watching the fish swimming around. very carming.

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 5 years ago from USA

      Glad you got "hooked" on the fish tank. It is a great tool in the classroom.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I think I might try to do that now. Thanks for the encouragement.