Eric is an aquarium enthusiast with over two decades of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish.
Aquarium Care for Children
For kids, caring for a home aquarium can be a very rewarding hobby. Fish tanks allow a child to experience a little piece of nature right in their own home. The glass of the tank is like a window to another world, a peek beneath the surface of a lake or stream.
Unfortunately, kids (and adults) today are more removed from that natural world than ever. Between video games, smartphones, television, and the internet, who has time to go outside much less find a stream or lake or stare at?
Home aquariums bring nature into your living room, just a few steps away from that couch where the kid is firmly planted much of the time.
A fish tank can teach a child lessons in the fields of biology, zoology, chemistry, and environmental science. They’ll also learn responsibility, respect for nature and living creatures, and how their actions directly impact the outcome of a situation.
When the whole family gets involved, a home aquarium becomes a way to bond and communicate over a common interest, as well as share the highs and lows that come with fish keeping.
Fish tanks aren’t for every kid or every family. However, if your child has expressed an interest, this article will help you understand the potential benefits of aquarium care for kids, and then point you to some references on how to choose the right tank and fish.
Lessons Kids Can Learn by Keeping Fish
Here are a few insights children gain by maintaining their own fish tank:
1. An Understanding of Biology and Ecology
Home aquariums are tiny ecosystems, the natural environment in miniature. As such, everything that happens out there in a lake or stream must happen in an aquarium, either naturally or with help from us humans. If it doesn’t, fish do not survive for very long.
Of course, this means fish have to eat enough, rest enough, be free of stress and interact in a safe way. A fishkeeper needs to study different fish species and their requirements in order to understand what they eat, how big they grow, and if they will get along together. In doing so, a child learns important lessons about biology and ecology.
2. Lessons in Basic Chemistry
There are also lessons to be learned about chemistry. In the wild, rivers, and lakes naturally regulate water quality. In your aquarium, fish waste must be broken down, and the chemicals produced must be eliminated. Kids (under adult supervision) can perform simple water chemistry tests to determine the quality of the water, and then decide if steps need to be taken to improve the way a fish tank is processing waste.
3. Respect for the Natural and the Environment
Possibly more important than these science lessons is the opportunity to teach a child about respect for nature, animals, the environment, and even other people. A child who learns compassion for the fish under his or her care is more likely to grow up to be a conscientious adult who is more aware of their actions and how they affect the world.
Tasks Children Must Perform to Maintain their Tanks
As has been already established, domestic fish in tanks are captive creatures with limited means to care for themselves. Everything they have or don’t have is because of a human who is in charge of that tank. Children who care about their fish will quickly learn how their actions directly impact their pets, and will hopefully take pride in their aquarium and its inhabitants.
An established fish tank requires minimum maintenance, and realistically the time spent should add up to no more than an hour or so of total time per month. However, the tasks that are required are very important:
- Fish must be fed. This should go without saying, but for a kid, it is a daily task that requires diligence.
- Fish tanks require frequent water changes. This is a chore that must be done at least monthly, but preferable twice per month. About a third of the tank water is removed and replaced with fresh, clean water. This serves to dilute the waste chemicals present in the tank and assist with the natural processes discussed above.
- Aquariums need to be kept at the right temperature, between 75 and 80 degrees for tropical fish. Should the temperature rise or fall significantly it can result in death for the fish.
- Tanks must be kept free of algae. Excessive algae growth is a sign that something is wrong in your tank, but even well-kept tanks will grow some algae. Often, it must be removed physically using an algae scraper.
- Fish tanks must be kept clean. Once a month the filter, gravel and all of the décor should be give a once-over to make eliminate any accumulated debris and waste.
Aquarium Care for the Whole Family
When the whole family participates in caring for a fish tank, everyone benefits. If your children are bugging you to set up a tank but you have no idea where to start, take it as a chance for everyone to learn something new. Expecting a child to do all of the research necessary for proper aquarium setup and care is probably unrealistic, so taking the journey with them is tremendously helpful.
An understanding parent relieves some of the pressure on a child and eases the sting when things go wrong. Unfortunately, every new fish keeper makes some mistakes. Even if a child performs all of the maintenance tasks listed above perfectly there are reasons a fish might die anyway, for reasons beyond anyone’s control.
For kids, the guilt of losing a pet under their care can be heartbreaking and potentially drive them to quit the hobby. By sharing the burden and the benefits of aquarium care with their parents, kids are less likely to become frustrated when bad things happen.
It also creates a bonding opportunity where parents and kids have a common interest. The chance for kids and parents to share the same hobby is rare, but caring for a family aquarium lets everyone take pride in something they have done together.
Plus, all of those benefits of aquarium care listed above apply to adults too!
Advice From Petco on Setting Up Your Tank
How to Choose Fish Tanks for Kids
Hopefully, you are convinced of the benefits of aquarium care for kids, and the important lessons children can learn when they manage a fish tank. Now what?
If you are planning to go through with this the next step is to decide what kind of tank is best for your child. They may already have an idea of exactly what they want, but here is some advice on how to choose the right tank, and what to avoid:
Those tiny plastic tanks are popular for kids, but if you are really interested in teaching a child to care for fish correctly they are better off avoided. Most of those tanks are much too small for tropical fish, and they do not include the proper filtration or heater.
If you are interested in a small, desktop-sized tank, choose one at least 5 gallons and then read up on the correct fish to stock, as well as the special care requirements for such a tiny aquarium.
This article can help:
- Fish for a Small Aquarium
10-Gallon Tanks and Bigger
A 10-gallon tank is an ideal size for a starter aquarium. It allows enough space for multiple fish, and interesting decoration ideas. Plus, it can be easily equipped with a standard heater and filter, unlike many smaller tanks.
Here are some suggestions on what kind of fish you can consider for a tank this size:
- Best Fish for a 10-Gallon Tank
Of course, you can choose a larger tank too. A 29-gallon allows more fish, and a 55-gallon tank more still. Larger tanks are also generally easier to care for and do not require much more time than a 10-gallon tank.
Betta are a great way to introduce kids to aquarium care. Unfortunately, like small tanks, because of some common misconceptions, they are also an easy way to teach kids all the wrong things.
Bettas are tropical fish that require the same living space, filtration, and water temperature as any other tropical fish. This means a tank of at least 5 gallons, preferably 10, with a filter, heater, and proper décor. In other words, bowls, plant vases, cubes, and other tiny enclosures are bad for the fish.
If you are considering a Betta here is some information to get you started:
- Betta Fish Care and Tank Setup
When your kid wants a fish it is tempting to buy a bowl, toss in a Goldfish, and be done with it. However, all varieties of Goldfish grow up to eight inches long, with some reaching a foot and more. These are not fish that belong in a bowl or even a small tank, and generally, they are not a good choice for kids.
Read more about Goldfish care:
- Goldfish vs Betta Care
Good luck with your new fish tank!
Which Tank for a Kid?
peachy from Home Sweet Home on March 07, 2015:
kids will learn how to keep pets with small aquarium
Great For Productivity and Creativity
The last benefit that is worth mentioning is the apparent increase in productivity and creativity that aquariums can offer. The visual stimulation of a fish tank can help to improve your creative abilities and the therapeutic, stress-reducing effects can help you to be more productive in whatever you are trying to focus on.
So there are 8 surprising health benefits of keeping an aquarium in your home or office. Were you surprised by any of them?
Don’t worry about what size aquarium you need to reap the benefits, or how many fish you need, or what species of fish will help you the most. That’s not what it’s all about. Keeping fish is a hobby first and foremost, it’s something that needs your time and attention. The health benefits are nothing more than a positive side effect.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a 300-gallon super-aquarium or a 5-gallon nano-tank on your office desk. The health benefits are still the same.
There are many advantages to pet ownership, especially for young children.
There are many benefits to owning a pet. Pets teach children valuable life lessons like responsibility, trust, compassion, respect and patience. While pets offer a lot of benefits to kids, kids also have a lot to offer the pet in your family as well. Both kids and pets enjoy high energy play as well as having a cuddle buddy during nap time.
If your child asks for a pet, talk with them about responsibility and the permanency of owning a pet. When the “newness” wears off or the puppy/kitten gets older, will they still want to care for the animal? Have they expressed a consistent desire for a pet and understand it will need daily care up and above play time?
Set up and discuss what your child’s pet responsibilities will be ahead of time. Remember, no matter how committed they are at the time of getting a pet, you will have to consider yourself as the backup plan if and when they cannot or will not continue to care for the pet.
One of the major reasons, and an important life skill, for owning a pet is to teach responsibility. Pets require food, water and love. Many, some more than others, require exercise. They also require grooming (brushing develops large muscles of the arm) and bathroom time (walking the dog develops large muscles of your child’s legs and is good for the development of their heart, brain and lungs).
Children over 5 years old can have developmentally appropriate responsibilities in regards to the care of the pet. Children under the age of 4 should be monitored with pets at all times, and children under the age of 10 should not be expected to take care of a dog or cat completely on their own.
A second skill children learn is trust. A pet offers unconditional support when a child (or anyone) is sad, angry or upset. They can teach your child to trust the pet, themselves and build trust in other relationships as well.
Compassion is the third life skill developed. When a child takes care of a pet, they learn to be kind to others through taking care of their furry friend’s basic needs.
Other skills kids learn include:
- Bereavement. When a pet passes away, a child will learn about the grieving process.
- Respect. Requiring gentle touching and learning about boundaries when the pet is eating and sleeping will develop respect for others in young children, which is a difficult skill to learn at a young age.
- Self-esteem. When pets show unconditional love, it boosts a child’s self-esteem. Being responsible also develops self-esteem in young children.
- Loyalty. Pets are very loyal and a good example of how to treat others that are important to the child and family.
- Physical activity. Walking and throwing a ball is great exercise.
- Patience. Sometimes bonding with a pet takes time, as well as teaching tricks and learning good behavior.
- Social Skills. Pets are great in helping “break the ice.” On outings, dogs encourage conversations with others and will improve a child’s social skills.
- Motivation. Because of all the skills pet ownership provides, young children have a reduced risk of allergies and better grades at school because kids develop internal motivation while caring for their animals.
- Empathy. Children growing up with a pet do so with more empathy towards animals and more empathy in general.
Research shows children who live in homes with a dog can possibly have fewer ear infections and respiratory tract infections and require fewer antibiotics, perhaps because the exposure to animals at a young age stimulates the immune system. Research found in the Time article, “Why Dogs and Cats Make Babies Healthier,” indicates that exposure to pet dander could prime babies’ still-developing immune systems and be able to fend off common allergens and bugs. Young children’s immune systems are more capable of facing them. Kids with a dog did better than those with a cat. The exposure has to happen very early in life. More information can also be found in the CBS News article, “Babies with dogs less likely to develop colds, ear infections as infants.”
When thinking of which pet to add to your family, pick one that fits your lifestyle. A fish, turtle or hamster will require less playtime than a cat or dog. If your family travels a lot, then maybe an animal that can be left at home with minimal care would be a good choice. If you prefer to go for long walks and play in the yard, then a dog may be a perfect fit. More information on choosing the right pet can be found in the Michigan State University Extension article, “Which pet is right for me?”
To learn about the positive impact children and families experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2016 impact report: “Preparing young children for success” and “Preparing the future generation for success.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.
This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit https://extension.msu.edu. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit https://extension.msu.edu/newsletters. To contact an expert in your area, visit https://extension.msu.edu/experts, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).
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Consider an Aquarium with Pets in the Classroom
Bringing a pet into your classroom is a great way to inspire learning and teach responsibility. There are many options when it comes to choosing a pet, and having information on each of them can make your decision easier. You may consider fish, for example. Adding an aquarium to your classroom is a fun and easy way to introduce your students to pet care and other important life lessons.
There are several educational opportunities that present themselves with an aquarium in the classroom. It’s a great jump start to teaching your kids about the food chain or the water and nitrogen cycles. And classes can discuss what constitutes a healthy marine environment while having students record water temperature and PH levels. Teachers can even introduce fish anatomy and biology using their pet as a model – Explain how fish are able to swim so well and breathe underwater.
Before you get your fish, make sure you’ve got an appropriate aquarium picked out. It’s up to you to decide on the size, shape, and even material of your aquarium, but having one with a filtration and ventilation system can make maintenance a little easier. Placing gravel at the base of your aquarium will also help with the water filtration process.
There are plenty of accessories including plants and decorative models that can be placed in the aquarium to make it a fun and spirited space. You can let your students help you pick out some of these objects to make the aquarium their own. However, depending on the type of fish you decide on, you may need to make room for added items like a water heater or a gravel vacuum.
When you finally get your habitat set up and your fish picked out, you’ll have daily, weekly, and monthly maintenance to adhere to. Your kids will be able to do things like feed the fish and check the water temperature daily, while they may need assistance once a week changing 10% of the water and checking PH and ammonia levels. Once a month, they’ll be able to assist you in a 25% water change, scrubbing the tank, and cleaning any plastic decorations.
By taking part in the necessary upkeep of their aquarium, kids will learn the importance of responsibility and that their fish depend on them to stay healthy and happy. They’ll have fun working as a team and watching their fish grow. Pets in the Classroom will help you get started with all the funds and information you need, just fill out one of our applications and tell us a little about yourself, your students, and your classroom.