Four Easy Starter Pets for Kids

Chances are, if you have small children, they have begged you for a pet (or 10!) on more than one occasion. Taking care of pets is a great way for kids to learn responsibility, self-confidence, patience and kindness, but you might not yet be ready to add a large pet like a dog or cat to your family. Consider one of these easy starter pets instead, and make your children happy without taking on too much extra work.

1.     Sea-Monkeys

These mini scientific wonders are the ultimate starter pets for kids. Sea-Monkeys are a hybrid species of brine shrimp that exist in suspended animation in egg form until you add them to purified water and they begin to hatch. A small, colorful aquarium with all the accessories needed to care for your tiny pets costs around $10 to $20, and if properly cared for, they can live up to two years and grow to about ½ to ¾ an inch in length. Sea-Monkeys never need to have their water changed and only require regular feedings, so they are great pets for small children interested in science.

2.     Rat or Mouse

OK, now hear us out. You may not be too keen on the idea of having a rodent as a pet, but rats and mice actually make excellent starter pets for kids. They are small, playful, affectionate, intelligent and relatively easy to care for.

It takes minimal effort to set up a home for your new rat or mouse; all you need is a simple plastic or glass aquarium or wire cage, absorbent bedding, food, water and toys. Rodents are very smart and curious and love to explore their surroundings. Placing ropes, ladders, exercise wheels or tunnels (cardboard toilet paper tubes work well) in the cage allows them to play and get exercise. Rats and mice also generally like to be held and played with outside of their cage (as long as you keep an eye on them so they don’t get lost in the house).

3.     Guppies

If your kids have graduated past the brine shrimp phase, they might be ready to take care of a small aquarium of fish. Guppies, fresh water fish, are inexpensive, low-maintenance and fun to watch. Buy a five or 10-gallon fish tank, an aquarium water pump (to circulate air to the fish and keep the tank clean), a treatment solution (to make tap water safe for the fish) and a few pretty accessories for visual appeal. Children can gradually learn responsibility by feeding their guppies every day and changing the water in the tank every week.

4.     Ants

Though you may spend a fair amount of time trying to keep them out of your kitchen, ants are the quintessential low-maintenance starter pets for kids. They are economical, silent and require extremely little space or attention to survive. Uncle Milton sells a few simple ant farms, including the live ants, for  $11 to $25.  Sand ant farms require occasional watering and feeding, but gel farms are completely self-sustaining. Just sit back and watch the industrious little guys go to work!

As the animals grow, encourage your children to record the progress in their journals. How have they changed since you first got them? What do they do that is most interesting?