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The Positive Reinforcement Strategy Kids Love

Desk Pets are a powerful tool to add to your classroom management toolbox. The original idea came from Marissa Begay, and at first, I didn’t get it. How could animal erasers possibly benefit my students? After some research, it turns out Desk Pets are actually a positive reinforcement strategy I can get behind.

Desk Pets are simply 3D animal mini-erasers students keep at their desks or workstations. They can be turned into a fun reward system and a great incentive. Students adopt a Desk Pet and can earn food and accessories for it.

Kindergarten teacher Taylor raves, “My kids go crazy for Desk Pets in the classroom and love collecting them! It’s so much cheaper to keep up with than a treasure box. I had all of these erasers I’ve been collecting throughout the years! My kinders go to the class store and can buy them with their bucket-filler points.” Look at the pros and cons at Beginning Teacher Talk.

(Just a heads up, WeAreTeachers may collect a share of sales from the links on this page. We only recommend items our team loves!)

Check out these tips for using Desk Pets in any classroom.

1. Establish the rules

As with anything in the classroom, setting parameters is important. Whether teacher-created or co-created with students, come up with a simple list of rules for Desk Pets that all members of the classroom community agree to and understand. For instance: “My Desk Pet will remain in its home while I work” or “I will not touch others’ Desk Pets without permission,” etc. Have students create and sign a contract with you before they earn their Desk Pets so that everyone is clear about the rules and expectations.

Get it: Free Desk Pet Rules from Miss Lamb’s Freebies

2. Create criteria for earning pets and accessories

@thepriceofteaching/earn pets via Instagram

You will need criteria for how students can earn a Desk Pet and accessories. Reinforce behaviors like staying on task, making a smooth transition, working well with a partner, etc. Consider using a punch card to help kids keep track of positive behavior. Accessories can include food, habitats, toys, and “friends” (all of which are other mini-erasers). Even better, students can set their own goals or incentive plan. Keep track of students’ progress.

In addition, plan a shopping day so that students know exactly when they will be able to shop for new pets, food, or goodies. This should help contain their excitement and keep persistent questions to a minimum. 

3. Hold a pet adoption

@lexeslittlelearners/pet adoption via Instagram

One of the cutest ways I’ve seen to introduce Desk Pets in the classroom is to set up an adoption center. Students browse the pets and then write about the pet they want to adopt and why. It’s a great way to incorporate those writing skills!

Buy it: 32-Piece Animal Eraser Set, 60-piece set, or 100-piece set on Amazon

A little girl with a mask on holding a desk pet and a certificate of adoption

Swoop Into Kindergarten/adoption certificate via mdelwiche.edublogs.org

“The magic in the classroom is Desk Pets!” teacher Lexe Roberts says. “My kids go wild for them! They have their homes and food to go along with them. There are so many ways to use Desk Pets in the classroom!”

4. Keep a stash of pets and accessories handy at all times

Plastic bins designed to hold desk pets in the classroom

@thatteachertaylor/pet shop via Instagram

Pick a specific day or time during the week that students can visit the Pet Store to buy food, accessories, etc., for their Desk Pets. This will minimize interruptions to learning. Teachers have come up with inventive ways to store their inventory, from boxes and bins to hanging organizers.

Buy it: Storage Box, Store-in-Drawer Cabinet, and Hanging Shoe Rack on Amazon

5. Give students time to play with their pets

A smiling young boy showing off his desk pet and accessories

Kara/play with pets via lifewithfingerprints.com

Whether built into the day or earned, students will want to play with their Desk Pets in the classroom. Identify times students can get out their Desk Pets and play with them. You’ll love the imaginative play they come up with!

6. Decide where and how to store pets

A desk pet daycare made from a sparkly storage bin

Dr. Lori Friesen/pet daycare via drlorifriesen.com

At the end of the day, I want my students to put their Desk Pets away to minimize the risk of them getting lost or “disappearing.” I love the idea of “Animal Control” coming around at the end of each day to take the pets to the Pet Hotel for the night. My simple solution is to put a bin labeled “Pet Daycare” by the door where students drop their Desk Pets (in their individual labeled containers) on the way out.

7. Let students build pet habitats

A piggy desk pet and an apple eraser inside of a clear container

@missbakerinfirst/desk pet habitats via Instagram

Another alternative to a pet hotel is to let your students build habitats. Any small container will work for everyday homes. Be sure to label them with each pet owner’s name to avoid confusion. Long-term, why not tie in those science standards and challenge students to build their Desk Pets a habitat?! Some teachers make this part of a whole-group lesson, and others have students earn the pieces to create their habitat.

Buy it: Bead storage cases, beauty product containers, and baby food canisters on Amazon

8. Incorporate desk pets into the curriculum

Children reading to and writing about their desk pets

St. Celestine Catholic School/desk pet curriculum via stcelestineschool.org

Creativity knows no bounds when it comes to these cute little creatures! There are so many ways to incorporate them into your curriculum. Desk Pets make great reading buddies, interesting subjects for creative writing, art subjects, and models for science units on habitats. They can also be used for conversations about friendship.

In addition, Desk Pets can be a good tool for teaching empathy. Learning how to care for others can begin in early childhood. This often takes the form of caring for a doll or a stuffed animal. But in this case, kids can care for their desk pets.

To help get you started, check out these fun ideas from Teach Starter.

9. Set up a timeout procedure

Kids need to not be distracted by their Desk Pets. A timeout plan doesn’t have to be seen as a punishment, just a natural consequence. Set up a fun timeout area like a daycare center (a designated spot on your desk) or a vacation spot (on top of a filing cabinet where they can still be seen, but not touched).

10. Don’t overdo it

A playful desk pet store made from a plastic storage cube

Dr. Lori Friesen/pet store via drlorifriesen.com

Dr. Lori Friesen recommends not introducing Desk Pets first thing at the beginning of the year. “Take the first month to ensure that you have clearly taught your rules and routines,” she says. “Instead of focusing on individual rewards, have your students work towards a class goal to help build a sense of community and teamwork.”

11. Go digital

Screenshot of digital desk pets

Erintegration/digital pets via erintegration.com

Yes, Desk Pets can be used virtually! You can use Google Slides or Seesaw to create pet habitats and assign them to students. The actual pets can be digital stickers or animal clip art. Or check out these pre-made digital desk pet templates.

Check out more classroom management strategies that really work.

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