Desk Pets: 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.

Get Your Free Printable Desk Pet Bundle

Gif featuring a bundle of desk pet printable classroom resources.
We Are Teachers; Myranda McDonald

Be sure to grab our Free Desk Pet Printable Bundle by filling out the form on this page. It includes everything you need to get started with desk pets in your classroom, including:

  • Adoption application
  • Adoption certificate
  • Scrapbook
  • Rules
  • Meet My Desk Pet worksheet
  • Habitats
  • Play money
  • Signs and labels

Desk Pet Classroom Tips

Check out the tips below for using desk pets in any classroom.

1. Establish the rules

Printable desk pets rules poster on purple background.
We Are Teachers

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. Fill out the form on this page to get the printable Desk Pet Rules poster shown above.

2. Create criteria for earning and buying pets and accessories

Printable desk pets play money on purple background.
We Are Teachers

You will need criteria for how students can earn a desk pet and accessories. Many teachers reinforce behaviors like staying on task, making a smooth transition, working well with a partner, etc., by giving out desk pet dollars. (Grab the play money pictured above in our free printable bundle.) 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

Printable desk pets adoption certificate on purple background.
We Are Teachers

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! Be sure to grab our free Desk Pets printable bundle for an adoption application and adoption certificate.

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

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@lexeslittlelearners/pet adoption via Instagram

4. Introduce pets to the class

Printable Meet My Desk Pet worksheet on purple background.
We Are Teachers

Use the Meet My Desk Pet worksheet from our free printable bundle to allow students to create personas for their pets and then introduce them to the class. This is a quick creative writing activity, and it also gives students a chance to practice their speaking skills when they use the sheet as a guide to introduce their desk pet to the class.

5. 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

6. Make signs and labels for your classroom

Printable desk pets hospital sign on purple background.
We Are Teachers

Our free printable Desk Pet bundle includes all the signs you need to organize your classroom, including signs and labels for:

  • Adoption Center
  • Pet Hospital
  • Pet Time-Out
  • Pet Food
  • Pet Habitats
  • Accessories
  • Money

7. 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!

8. Let students build pet habitats

An 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

9. 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.

10. Set up a time-out procedure

A lion desk pet and accessories in a clear plastic container with white lid
@thepriceofteaching/earn pets via Instagram

Kids need to not be distracted by their desk pets. A time-out plan doesn’t have to be seen as a punishment, just a natural consequence. Set up a fun time-out 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).

11. Decide where and how to store desk pets at the end of the day

A piggy desk pet and an apple eraser inside of a clear container
@missbakerinfirst/desk pet habitats via Instagram

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.

12. Make memories

Printable desk pets scrap book on purple background.
We Are Teachers

Let students create a scrapbook using the free printable pages from our Desk Pet bundle to document all the memories they have of raising their pets throughout the year. It’s a fun creative writing activity and a great memento of the time in your classroom.

13. Go digital

Want to avoid clutter in the classroom? 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.

Check out more classroom management strategies that really work.

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