A class pet can be an invaluable experience for elementary school children. The pet can teach responsibility, build a connection to the classroom, serve as a motivator, and be something for the children to love. If the teacher is willing to take on the added responsibility of caring for an animal in addition to all of the children in the classroom, a class pet can be a wonderful addition to a class.
Many criteria need to be taken into consideration when choosing a class pet. It cannot be too big, as classrooms generally have limited space. Cost should also be considered since the teacher will likely have to pay for the pet, its food and its habitat. It must also be somewhat hardy. Each particular type of animal has its advantages and disadvantages, and a teacher must weigh these and make a decision about which one is right for his or her class.
Rodents such as hamsters, gerbils, rats, and guinea pigs do not require any kind of special environment, expensive equipment, or particular temperatures to thrive. They are furry, cute, warm, and children develop a strong attachment to them quickly. The downside of having a rodent for a pet is that it tends to have a strong odor if its cage is not cleaned frequently. They may also bite if they are provoked, and are often very fragile. Younger children should be closely supervised when handling small rodents, or you should institute a "hands-off" rule to avoid accidental rough handling.
Birds are physically more delicate than many other animals. They will not survive in drafts and need a somewhat regulated temperature in their environment. Many birds are quite social and do best with other birds or when being handled routinely by people who can be appropriate with them. Young children are not likely to have the skill to handle a bird without harming it, making it a poor choice for a class pet.
Some reptiles are beautiful to look at but are delicate or poisonous and shouldn’t be handled by children. Others are more hardy but require elaborate and expensive habitats, with heat. Most snakes and large lizards eat rats and mice, which may be a frightening thing for small children to witness. Some reptiles, such as the Leopard Gecko, appear more harmless, can withstand more handling and can therefore thrive better as a class pet.
A hardy fish, such as a betta, is a good low-cost option for a class pet. They are obviously not cuddly or able to be handled, which provides less interaction for the children. However, they are inexpensive, have relatively long life spans, and can be kept in a simple fish bowl.