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Introducing children to fish-keeping

If you have young children clamouring for a pet, try and get them interested in the idea of an aquarium stocked with fish. There are many educational benefits to keeping fish, not to mention the fun and rewarding bonding time you can spend as a family on your shared hobby.

Fish are the perfect first pet in many ways. They are quiet, relatively cheap to feed, they don’t smell and they won’t need expensive kennelling when you go on holiday. Okay, so they may not offer a a particularly cuddly pet experience, but what they lack in furry cuteness they make up for in fishy-fun. For teaching kids about life, love, death and responsibility, fish make a good gentle introduction to some of life’s more difficult questions. For many children, a pet dying is their first experience of loss and it can be a valuable learning opportunity.

Getting started

Smaller children especially may find fish-keeping great fun at first, but their enthusiasm could fade quite quickly. Bearing this in mind, parents need to be committed to a fish keeping project, because realistically with younger children, parents will end up doing much of the routine maintenance involved with the new aquarium. Cleaning, testing water and feeding all need regular attention, so factor this in to your decisions. If you are happy to accept this responsibility, dive in and purchase a tank for your family’s first foray into fish-keeping.

Tank tips

Most people choose to start off with a small tank, but it should be large enough to house the number of fish you plan on keeping. Teach kids not to tap on the tank walls from the outset, developing good habits from the start usually means they will tell their friends not to tap either.  Fish can cope fine without food for a day or so, however, overfeeding will kill them off quickly – teach kids not to liberally sprinkle food into the tank at any given opportunity. Also put in place strict hygiene rules– if they have placed their hands into the water of the tank, then they need to wash them afterwards.

If you worry about the saftey of a glass tank, acrylic alternatives are widely available – they are around fifteen times stronger and far lighter, too. Remember, baby fish grow into adults, so research breeds to ensure you don’t buy tiddlers that turn into tiger-sharks! A smallish tank allows you to approach the project on a manageable scale, involve the children in the purchase of fish and the setting out of the aquarium’s interior. This can be a valuable educational exercise that stimulates your children’s imagination. At an early stage, get to know your neighbourhood fish stockist and online aquarium suppliers. Such places are always staffed by enthusiastic experts, keen to share knowledge with fish-keeping newbies. Ask advice on which fish are the best to start out with. Children of course will love breeds that glitter with vivid colour and have exciting names or fierce faces. Zebra Danios, some Tetras and Barbs are all good fish to get started with. It is important not to place incompatible fish together, again, either take advice on this, or read up in one of the many books out there on fish keeping.

Older children

Often, when introduced to the world of fish-keeping early, children catch the bug. Teenagers have been known to progress from small freshwater tanks to large marine aquariums, populated with rich reef life and a complex cast of characters from fish to invertebrates, and corals. The management of these tanked eco-systems becomes a labour of love and children learn to balance and maintain a highly sensitive and vulnerable world. With the larger, more ambitious tanks, the stakes get higher. In order to protect and maintain the fish, more sophisticated equipment is required. High-tech filtration systems and aquarium chillers which help keep the water quality and temperature just right, can be a worthwhile investment.  Whether it’s a solitary goldfish in a bowl or a squadron of Cardinalfish in a highly-specified tank set-up with aquarium chillers, super-filtration systems and cutting-edge lighting, fish-keeping offers children a stimulating  past-time.

Keeping fish is an educational and fun hobby that children and parents can discover together. It’s easy to get youngsters involved and engaged in this rewarding past-time if you know how – so get down to your nearest aquarium and fish keeping suppliers or online to your favourite aquarium store, and start asking some questions…

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