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Desk pets have become all the rage since several teachers first shared this idea on TikTok. And it's no wonder - they are super adorable, and if implemented thoughtfully, they can be a wonderful and relatively inexpensive classroom management strategy inside your classroom.
Typically, desk pets are miniature erasers in the shape of animals and their related accessories & food items. You can find them at the dollar store, at Target Dollar Spot, or on Amazon. Click the pic below to check out these adorable bundles now (and please note that I may receive a small affiliate link if you purchase through links on this page at no extra cost to you).
Kids absolutely love these because they are fun to collect, especially when it comes to earning accessories and food items for their pets.
One of the favorite parts of having desk pets for kids is creating homes or "habitats" for their pets. Purchasing a class set of small plastic containers like the ones pictured below and attaching your students' names to each is a great way to keep your students' desk pets safe and contained. Note: Just be sure to check that the size is correct before you order. The containers pictured below are around 2 inches x 2 inches, which is the perfect size for a Desk Pet Habitat! You can order these by clicking here or on the pic below.
You will also want to create a simple and engaging Pet Shop for your students where students can purchase accessories and food items (also small erasers). You might consider having other items available for purchase such as stickers to decorate their habitats or mini pet blankets made of small squares of material. You can order this Pet Store display container by clicking here or on the pic below.
So, now that we've covered the basics of what Desk Pets are, let's talk about how to best manage them in your classroom!
1. Don't start the school year with desk pets.
I know it's tempting because we all know how much your students would enjoy these adorable little pets, but take the first month to ensure that you have clearly taught your rules and routines. Instead of focusing on individual rewards such as desk pets, I would encourage you to have your students work towards a class goal to help build a sense of community and teamwork.
2. Consider desk pets as a seasonal strategy (not an ongoing one).
When you do introduce desk pets to your students, consider doing so in the lead-up to Halloween, Thanksgiving, winter or Christmas, or Valentine's Day. Or, combine this strategy with a specific unit of study. If you're teaching a unit on marine life, maybe you want to let your students earn marine life desk pets and create habits for them!
Then, send the desk pets and their accessories home with your students (but keep the box for their habits so you don't need to buy more), and tuck it all away until the next season. This will keep this strategy fresh for your students and they'll look forward to what kind of a pet they might be able to earn next!
3. Consider using punch cards to let your students earn accessories and food items for their desk pets.
An easy, low-prep way for your students to earn their desk pet and habitat initially and then to earn subsequent visits to your Pet Shop is to prepare simple punch cards like the ones below.
4. Set clear boundaries and prepare a Desk Pet Daycare.
Ensure that you set up very clear boundaries around when students are allowed to have their desk pets out. If it were my classroom, I would probably only allow desk pets to be out when students are working in dependently at their desks, and only if they didn't distract them from their work.
One of the very cute strategies I've seen teachers use is to create a Desk Pet Daycare so that if students do become too distracted by their desk pets throughout the day or if desk pets are found on the floor, they can go to the desk pet daycare for the rest of the day.
What I love about this is that it's a natural consequence that is very simple to enforce and it means that students have a fresh start every single day.
5. Create contracts with your students.
I would also encourage you to have students create and sign a contract with you before they earn their desk pets so that everyone is clear about what the rules and expectations are around having desk pets in the classroom.
6. Decide in advance when (and how often) students can visit your Pet Store.
The other part of managing desk pets in your classroom is going to be the amount of time that it could take for students to purchase accessories in the pet store. You might want to limit the amount of time that students have to spend in the pet store, and perhaps only allow pet store purchases to be made on Fridays.
I think it might be fun to have the pet store available for viewing when students have free time, so they can check it out whenever they're finished the regular work, but only be allowed to make a purchase at a specific time.
The nice thing about having punch cards is that you won't have a whole group of students wanting to spend time in the pet store all at once, because of course students are not going to earn their reward all at the same time.
7. Limit the number of items in your Pet Store.
You also might want to limit the amount of items in the pet store at any given time to make it easier for students to make their choice quickly. If you have 25 students, I wouldn’t have more than about 25 - 30 items for students to choose from in the pet store each week.
When there are less items to choose from, it will take less time for your students to choose the reward that they want. You might want to add new things to the store every Monday to keep things fresh so that there is a rotating offering in your store with not too many things included all at once.
This will also help you to notice what your students are really into and what the most popular items are, so that you don't I purchase sets of erasers that aren't very popular with your students.
I just released my Desk Pet Starter Kit on TpT! If you want to check it out, just click the image below:
I hope that this episode is helpful for you as you start thinking through how to best prepare for the school year. Until next time, remember, just because you're a beginning elementary teacher, there's no need for you to struggle like one.
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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