How to Experience Animals without Adopting a Pet

I’ve always respected moms who care for not just their kids, but a pet or two as well.  I have a hard enough time herding my littles (which is a lot like herding cats), so we have not ventured into adopting any official pets.  However, wherever we have lived, we have sought out critters to care for, interact with and study. Here are a few of our favorite ways to discover living creatures:

1. Catch and Release: Fish, Frog or Toad, Crabs

For my middle son’s 2nd birthday, I took him and his siblings on a walk to the local pond in Lupburg, Germany.  The kids wondered why we had a net, but I did not want them to be too confident in my abilities to bring a special party guest that evening.  Originally, I thought I could lure in a koi fish with some stale bread, but my not quite 5’3’’ self and 2 ½’ arms were suddenly inadequate length—unless I got into the water.

I nearly broke through our village’s peaceful and orderly social norms and waded into the little koi pond to borrow a fish, but my husband thankfully joined us at the pond that day.  He was able to toss his lanky self three times farther than me over the water and catch something on the first try. 

We were surprised by what we found in our net—a frog!  Honestly, it took us about three days of research and debate to figure out that it was a frog, and not a toad, but all of that was a great learning experience for everyone.  We returned the frog on the third day, and he was alive and happy.

2. Order or Scavenge: Bugs

Ordering a butterfly kit online is a great option for young children not ready for pet responsibilities, and all ages can be fascinated by wiggly caterpillars consuming ready-made mush.  Since these are unobtrusive animals and their life-cycle is only a few weeks, you will not need to make any major lifestyle rearrangements like you would for larger pets.

We have done this for three years now, and a healthy twenty-eight out of thirty butterflies have flown into the world. We reuse the same butterfly home each year, and we release the butterflies a few days after hatching.  We just keep a flower and an apple slice as well as a few drops of water in the home. 

Plenty of other bugs work for unofficial, temporary pets as well.  Snails have been a favorite. We had a snail as a LEGO airplane pilot for a few weeks. After a few days of it gone missing, we suddenly found it latched onto one of my husband’s books–eating the back cover. Look out for those guys! Empty, ventilated peanut butter jars are one of the best little homes for these critters; and make sure that lid is on tight!

3. Babysit Animals: Other People’s Pets

If you are looking to give your children an extra responsibility that is temporary, rewarding and does not require you to rearrange your home or lifestyle in major ways, your kids could consider offering pet-babysitting services.  Most of the time, other people are welcomed to the idea, especially if they are trying to get away for the weekend.  Most of the time, babysitting does not happen at YOUR home.  Your children can also get a good sense of what different breeds and animals are like and what kind of responsibilities are required by each. 

Our favorite pet babysitting job was offered by my daughter’s preschool this year—baby chicks.  All we needed was a box, a warm bathroom, a dish for water, a sandwich bag of chicken feed and a little straw.  It was a great time for my youngest to practice one finger touches (which happened most of the time—everyone survived unharmed!)

These are just a few ways we have tried to incorporate living creatures into our children’s lives. There are so many other ways. Feel free to comment below and share your ideas! Thanks for reading!

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