starElementary Schoolers
Tweens & Teens

Taking Care of Pet Fish with Kids

A small fish is a wonderful pet for a young child. True, pet care is work, even for a small fish. But, raising a fish is a learning experience for all kids, letting them feel a sense of responsibility for something important. Choose a "starter" fish that is hardy and resilient, and that requires very little effort to raise.

Choosing Your Fish

The obvious choice, an inexpensive goldfish in a fish bowl, is not necessarily the best choice. Goldfish grow faster than you realize, and will soon outgrow any fish bowl, and perhaps even suffocate in the unfiltered water. A fish bowl and a goldfish is simply not a proper choice for a first pet for a child. Two of the best species of "first fish" for kids are guppies and platyls. Both are hardy types of fish, and they neither grow quickly nor large, reaching, at most, 2" of length as adults. If you're looking for a colorful tank of little fish, platyls become very bright red as adults, and guppies mature with shades of yellow and green on their fins and body.

Researching Your Fish

Now that you've figured out which fish you want, engage your child in research on the species you've chosen. You will both learn:

  • What aquarium environment is best for the fish, 
  • Feeding schedules and amounts, 
  • What types of fish behavior are normal, and what types are not.

Figure out the right size tank for the number and type of fish you plan to get, allowing for the growth of the fish into adults. Overcrowding is the second most common mistake when buying fish as pets. At the very least, invest in a small fish tank with a five-gallon capacity, along with filtering, aeration, and heating equipment to fit.  Don't forget the fish food, and the aquarium cleaning and maintenance supplies.

The Daily Plan for Kids to Care for Fish

 Give your child a few simple daily tasks to do.  Set the fish care tasks up on a chart so they visualize what needs their attention.

  • Feed the fish.
  • Skim off the uneaten food. 
  • Check the water temperature, perhaps marking the numbers on a chart. 
  • Inform mom or dad if something doesn't seem right.

Other Routines for Fish Care

There's also some other aspects of caring for fish to be aware of, and to check every few days:

  • Check water quality with tests for ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, and pH levels. 
  • Check the aquarium heater to ensure it is working.
  • Clean the filters and pumps. Change one-third of the water once a week
  • Tank Cleaning

Every few months, schedule a weekend day for a major tank cleaning. Let your kids be in charge of the fish when they're transferred temporarily to a fish bowl -- yes, there is a use for a fish bowl after all. Remove algae by scrubbing the inside walls of the tank (without soap), and, if necessary, the larger rocks and pebbles. Projects With Your Fish Make pet care and the raising of the little fish a continuing project for your child.

Let your child pick out and plant a few aquarium plants that will improve the aquarium environment and make life more pleasant for the fish. Help your child make a video of the fish's daily life, and post it online for relatives.

A fish is a splendid pet for kids, because the activities of caring for a fish will give your child a sense of responsibility and a feeling of accomplishment. Do your research, give your child a few small tasks for which to be entirely responsible, and involve the child in the more complex tasks.