What’s a desk pet? Glad you asked! When I first stumbled across this idea on @hillarysteachingadventures Instagram account, I immediately fell in love! I always enjoy finding new ways to up my classroom management game and I knew my kids would be hooked instantly. BUT….Hillary taught 4th grade. I teach kindergarten. HOW could I make desk pets work for 5 and 6-year-olds? Which brings me back to WHAT IS A DESK PET?
I definitely want to answer that for you and WILL in detail – but first, let me ask you, do you have a soon-to-be kindergartener? Do you teach kindergarten? Do you know someone who does? If so – you have got to check out my FREE DOWNLOAD, 10 Things Your Kindergarten Teacher Really Wants You To Know Before They Go. “I laughed through the entire thing – and shouted ‘YES!’ in agreement! I want to make this a MUST READ for all of my incoming parents!” – Kindergarten Teacher Ok….now back to desk pets!
What is a Desk Pet?
Let’s start with what a desk pet is NOT.
- A desk pet is NOT alive
- A desk pet does NOT need to be fed
- A desk pet will NOT escape your classroom
- A desk pet will NOT leave you giving a eulogy over a shoebox because you bought the wrong fish and not all fish are meant to live together in a tank and you can’t ever un-hear the shrieks from 5-year-old girls who are forever traumatized because the Pet Smart lady didn’t tell you this fact and just wanted to make a sale
I inherited a full-blown fish tank in my first kindergarten classroom. It had the little sunken ship and treasure chest, the flowy ocean greenery, (I’m sure there’s an official term I don't know for that), and the nets, food, hook-ups –ALL of it. EXCEPT FOR THE FISH.
Easy remedy. My husband and I went with our niece and nephews to Pet Smart and picked out a whole flurry of fish – plus one little frog that JW named, Smoochy Wallace. We got them all set up in their new little home – TADAH! Perfect. My first kindergarten classroom was going to have class pets!
The first week I thought I noticed one or maybe two fewer than we’d bought, but then again, maybe they were hiding in the ship. The next week I was starting to become more suspicious because there were DEFINITELY fewer fish than we’d started with. Oh yes, and why was the zebrafish suddenly swimming upside-down with one less fin than before?
Then one morning – the shrieking happened that I will never un-hear: “Smmmoooooooccchhhyyyyy Walllllaaaaaccceeee!!!!!” Sure enough, Smoochy Wallace had all legs splayed out, and was sort of float-bobbing towards the front of the aquarium in slow-motion. Turns out we had bought one fish that was not meant to be with other fish. Or frog. I’m thinking it was a betta fish – but let’s just say I didn’t look too much further into the mystery because I decided class pets weren’t for me.
Until Desk Pets came into my world.
Have you ever loved the idea of having a pet in the classroom but didn’t want the expense and responsibility of a real pet? Maybe desk pets are for you! If you want to create a fun goal for kids to work towards and help them become responsible, try desk pets! If you have also been in a slightly unfortunate classroom pet situation – TELL ME in the comments! 🙂
Should I be acknowledging positive behavior in the classroom?
In my opinion, yes. Acknowledging positive behavior helps create more positive behavior. I’ve watched this over and over in my classroom. I have all sorts of little incentives for my kindergarten kids as we start the year like Treasure Chest, Stuffie Passes, etc. But, I also teach them how to work towards a bigger goal that takes quite a bit longer to achieve.
I tell my kids about desk pets during those first few weeks of school when we are setting up routines and procedures. What they don’t know is that I will purposely pace it so that their desk pets won’t arrive until Q4. Why? For a couple of reasons:
- For kindergarten – you can’t give them something that holds this much responsibility too soon. Giving them tiny little pets with tiny little food too early on is just asking for a disaster.
- Goal setting – I think it is SO important to teach kids to work for small goals, and to set bigger goals that take a while to conquer. Along the way, they learn patience and perseverance.
Best Desk Pet Finds
Desk pets are actually mini erasers you find on amazon. When the whole class has reached our goal, they are each given 1 desk pet with 1 ‘home’. I have found little plastic boxes in the dollar bin at Target, but these are my go-to from Amazon. (I’ve used the ones from Target as “vacation homes” they can buy/earn)
First, I show them a picture of last year’s desk pets so they can get a better idea of what they are, and also so they understand they aren’t real! Then, when they earn them, I ask each of them what their top 3 choices would be and write them down. For instance, if 4 of them want a lion, you are either going to be buying more erasers or asking someone to go with their second choice! The eraser packs usually come with 2 of each kind of animal – sometimes 3. The contents do vary!
Reinforcing Positive Behavior in the Classroom
They have their desk pets – NOW WHAT? My suggestion is that you talk through the expectations and make sure everyone is on the same page. You’d be amazed at how hard they will work just to keep their pet on their desk with them! I was also surprised to see how well they respect each other’s things – like returning “lost pet food” to its owner. Here are some ground rules we go by:
- Desk pets start and end each day in the “Pet Parking Lot”
- They can get their pets each morning after they have gone through their morning routine of getting me their folder and agenda
- At any point the desk pets become distracting to work – they go to the “Pet Parking Lot”
And that’s pretty much it! I have an old organizer I turned into a “Parking Lot”, but you could easily just designate a location in your classroom, in their cubby/locker, etc.
What are the different types of erasers you use?
I use mini erasers for food and ‘pet friends’. You’ve seen these literally everywhere from the dollar spot at Target to the Dollar Store to Amazon…they come in every shape and size these days!
What other things do you stock your store with?
I have things like make-up sponges (for pillows-beanbags), felt pieces (blankets), stickers (artwork), fur (carpets), and bigger erasers shaped like food, sports, etc.
How often do you open your store? And what do they use as money?
I try to let them shop every Friday. We have a school-wide program where we use “Lion Bucks” – to reinforce positive behavior in the classroom and around the school. They can earn these from any teacher or faculty member throughout every school day, and they keep them in their own little bank in our classroom.
How do you price your items in your lion buck store?
I try to always have several things for 5 lion bucks (like the mini food erasers or stickers). The prices go up for things like carpets or pillows – anywhere from 10, 20, to 30. *TIP – since a kindergarten standard is counting by 5s and 10s, I try to price items so they get extra practice in
Desk pets have changed my classroom management forevermore! At the end of this school year they wrote books about their pets and created a whole new level of “Pet Town” — but that’s for another blog on another day! I’d love to answer any questions you may have because I’m sure I probably wondered the same thing! If you have any awesome ideas you’d love to add, please comment below so we can share!
More On IG About Our Desk Pets
Check out these posts to see a little bit of the desk pets in action! Click on any picture to take you to the original post!
Hey, before you go, do you have a soon-to-be kindergartener? Do you teach kindergarten? Do you know someone who does? If so – you have got to check out my FREE DOWNLOAD, 10 Things Your Kindergarten Teacher Really Wants You To Know Before They Go.
“I’m a retired kindergarten teacher and wanted something to send to my daughters for their kids. This is SPOT ON! Thank you for posting. I look forward to other posts from you!” – B. Mayes
P.S. Jusssst in case you didn't know – I had a career mash-up of epic proportions I'd love to share with ya! Singer/Songwriter + Kindergarten Teacher = MUSIC FOR KIDS! (and their parents, teachers, etc!) I'd be honored if you'd take a hot second and go check some of my tunes out! We even had a #1 on Sirius XM Kids Place Live with “Dare To Be Me”! Pretty darn cool if ya ask me!