Top 4 Reasons Guinea Pigs Are Excellent Class Pets
Theodore, our class pet
After five years of teaching (and five years of great hesitation with this subject), this is my first year hosting a class pet in my 5th grade classroom. A non-teaching staff member on campus offered to donate his guinea pig, along with its cage and some food and bedding to get started, to any teacher willing to take on the responsibility. Many of my students this year expressed great interest in taking care of animals, so I decided it was finally time to adopt a pet.
Here are several reasons why our guinea pig makes an excellent class pet:
1. They are low maintenance. They require feeding and watering once-twice daily. They don’t need to be bathed regularly, and when they do, you can use a damp cloth or non-scented baby wipe. If given enough “chew” toys, they will maintain their own teeth care. Their bedding generally only needs to be freshened or changed about twice a week. My students are more than willing and able to complete each of these jobs. I train my students how to do the jobs and let them take care of the rest. This is an excellent opportunity for the kids to show responsibility!
2. It can be relatively inexpensive. I notified the families in my class at the beginning of the year that we would be taking care of a class pet this year and that I may ask them throughout the year to help donate necessities. Several families have taken the initiative to send in things like food, bedding, and treats. I try not to ask too often, and I do take our pet home over long weekends and breaks from school; so I have had to spend money out of pocket to help care for him but not so much to be burdensome. Of course, unless your pet and/or any of their materials were donated to you or you collect monetary donations, you’re going to have to spend the initial necessary amount to get started. (Guinea pigs themselves typically range from about $20-$35 at pet stores, but you can inquire about pet adoptions for a lower price or even for free! Cages can be quite costly, but you can save money by looking for a clean, second-hand one.)
3. Students LOVE him. My students were so overcome with excitement when I shared the news of his arrival. I was very worried that a class pet would be too disruptive in the classroom, and the students were quite squirrely during his first couple of weeks there. The novelty began to wear off, and the students adjusted quite well to having him there. They greet him each morning, say goodbye in the afternoons, and show their affection when passing by; but they have gotten used to having him there and no longer get distracted by his noisiness. Although, we do stop to giggle when his squeaking gets a little loud! As a teacher, it’s extremely rewarding to see how happy my students are having a pet to care for.
4. They provide a wide variety of teaching opportunities. As I mentioned before, I have assigned maintenance jobs to my students, which teaches them responsibility. I don’t always just select the same overly responsible students, either. I often select students that need practice with organization or responsibility and use it as a platform to transition them into being more organized and responsible for their own things (homework, desk organization, packing their bags, etc.). I even use those jobs as motivation, for example, “Johnny, I know you would like a turn to be take the feeding job. If you can work hard this week on turning in your homework, then I will know you’re ready to be responsible for feeding our pet next week.” (Please refer to my hub on “Using Your Class Pet to Lesson Plan” for specific ideas to use in the classroom-see link below article.)
There are always things to consider before deciding on a class pet. Make sure that you are willing to take on the responsibility of caring for a pet as if it were your own, especially if you want a pet in younger grade levels. Even if you have students to help take care of certain responsibilities, there will still be times where it’s just you. Also, don’t count on being able to always collect donations for your pet, especially if you teach in a lower poverty school. Plan on having to spend some of your own money on materials you’ll need for a pet. I would not suggest having a class pet if you’re a new or newer teacher simply because when you’re first starting out in this profession, you’re going to be overwhelmed in a lot of areas. Wait a few years until you have a firm grip on the job and classroom management. Some other pets similar to guinea pigs that would be well-suited for a classroom are hamsters, gerbils, fish, or hermit crabs.