Many young children are fascinated by animals and enjoy interacting with pets. Keeping a pet at nursery or preschool offers children the opportunity to be involved in the care of an animal on a daily basis. It teaches children how to be responsible for the animal's welfare and supports an exploration of the wider theme of pets in the classroom.
Choosing a Nursery Pet
There are many factors to consider when choosing a nursery pet: It must be safe and appropriate for the age of the class; it must be transportable, or arrangements must be made for its care at weekends and vacations; there must be a suitable situation in the classroom for its cage or tank away from drafts or direct heat. Allow children to be involved as pet monitors each week and help take responsibility for the pet's daily care. Young children should handle animals only under adult supervision and need to wash their hands carefully afterward.
Small mammals, such as gerbils and guinea pigs, are often suitable for nurseries and classrooms as they can be kept in cages that, provided they are kept clean, will produce little odour. They are awake during the day so can be watched and handled without disturbing their natural sleep patterns. They are easy to keep, needing fresh food, water and hay each day. Gerbils can be kept in glass aquariums to enjoy observing as they burrow in a deep layer of sawdust. All small mammals may bite or scratch if alarmed, but with careful repeated handling can become very tame.
Fish and Amphibians
Cold-water fish such as goldfish are among the easiest animals to keep. They require little daily attention and can be left over the weekend. Amphibians such as frogs and newts can be kept in a tank. Many children will be fascinated watching frog spawn develop into tadpoles and then small frogs that can be released into the wild. This provides an excellent introduction to the topic of animal life cycles. Tropical frogs need a heated tank and special frog food, so will need more careful attention.
Bugs and Insects
There are many suitable insects for a nursery to keep that will engage children's interest, such as snails, beetles and millipedes. Giant millipedes are safe pets and can be handled carefully. Children will enjoy feeding them with fruit and vegetables. They may like to keep a chart noting which foods the millipede likes best. Millipedes can be kept in an aquarium but may need a heat mat placed under the soil base to ensure they are kept warm enough.