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It's been a year since we shared our Montessori classroom with you.  I can't believe how fast time flies.  Throughout the year, our classroom design, furniture, and spaces have held up and proven to be absolutely perfect for our family.  Our only change in the classroom has been the addition of a fish tank.  And let me tell you, this addition completely changed our learning environment.

The fish tank was a gift from grandparents.  It arrived in February.  The boys were beyond thrilled to help their grandpa set it up.  Grandpa even made a stand to go with it.  But the boys hadn't known what a fish tank filter would sound like.  And that took some adjusting to, well beyond the two week waiting period before putting fish in the tank.  In fact, just as we were ready, we had to leave on our unexpected trip to Florida in March, due to the death of my grandmother.

When we returned, the boys were delighted to use money they had saved to purchase fish and some decorations for their tank.  They both picked out two new fish and named them immediately.  Dinomite's fish were Sam and Fiona.  Bulldozer's fish were Jeff and Max.  All was right in the world, until three days later, when Max died.  That's when we first learned that little fish can bring about BIG emotions.  Bulldozer was devastated.  After all, he had cared for his fish with all the love a little boy can muster.  He had fed his fish.  Each day he spent time in our classroom keeping him company, talking to him, observing him etc.  Why had his fish died and not Dinomite's fish?  It took several hours to help Bulldozer work through his emotions.  Then, immediately we needed to return to the pet store for a new fish.  He would not purchase the same type of fish again, because he thought they all might die.  So instead he purchased one similar to Dinomite's fish and named him Dark Warrior.

Little did we know, at that point that Dark Warrior was a male and would be chased endlessly by Sam, who was claiming rights to Fiona.  I grew up with fish tanks my entire life, and I have never seen a fish like Sam, so protective of Fiona, to the point that he won't ever leave her side, unless it is to chase a threat away.  And so Dark Warrior learned to keep to himself.  Bulldozer began to dislike Sam.  Every day, Bulldozer would comment to Dinomite about how he wished Sam would stop bullying his fish.  Once again, little fish were bringing out BIG emotions.

A few weeks passed, BIG emotions had calmed.  Dinomite and Bulldozer were eager to help with maintenance of the tank, draining 1/4 of the water each week using our siphon and gravel washer kit. Dinomite learned how to measure out the water conditioner.  They were taking turns feeding the fish on a daily basis.  We all celebrated that the sides of the tank started to turn green.  This meant we could purchase an algae eater, and could add more fish to our tank.  Life was good.  And so we headed to the pet store again and each of them purchased a new fish.

The boys now had questions, before selecting their fish.  They asked if they were healthy and if they were male or female.  I was so proud of them.  They were definitely stepping up to the big responsibility of having a fish tank and wanting to select the perfect fish.  They even shared their concerns about Sam and Dark Warrior. Dinomite ended up naming his new female fish Snow.  Bulldozer named his Molly.  We also purchased our first algae eater.

The very next day, our weekly water change and tank cleaning occurred.  One day later, after feeding the fish, Bulldozer and Dinomite come running, exclaiming that there were baby fish in the tank.  I didn't believe them at first, but they were insistent I look.  Sure enough, there were babies who looked identical to Bulldozer's new fish, Molly.  The excitement over the babies soon ended when the boys saw Snow eat one of them.  Dinomite lost it.  The kid sobbed for an entire day.  I called the fish store trying to figure out what to do.  We only had one tank, and the babies were already born.  It was impossible to catch them in a net, not to mention that, as they grew, we had no place to put them.  After an entire day of itty bitty little fish causing BIG emotions, the boys and I had a sit down chat and discussed the reality of fish eating other fish.  Once I could relate it back to dinosaurs, Dinomite was fine.  (Why hadn't I thought of that comparison earlier?)  But we weren't out of the woods yet.

The next morning, Bulldozer came running, concerned that Molly was staying close to the top of the tank and that her mouth was turning white.  She had not eaten breakfast.  After yet another call to the pet shop, we learned that she had a bacterial infection.  We raced to the pet store to pick up medicine and instantly started treatment.  But we were too late.  Molly died less than a day later.  This was Bulldozer's second fish to die, and boy was he upset.  Once again these little fish caused BIG emotions that took hours to work through.  When we did take Molly back to the fish store for a replacement, we learned that moving to a new tank and giving birth were just too much for her, and so she died.  Bulldozer came home with his new fish, one like Sam, Fiona, and Dark Warrior.  Her name was Red Warrior.  Oh and I forgot to mention, or first algae eater died too and needed to be replaced.  I started to worry that something was wrong with our water, but each and every time we brought a sample to be checked, it was perfect, so it appeared we were just having some really bad luck.

By this time is was close to Memorial Day weekend.  We were set to go and visit grandparents to celebrate the holiday.  The fish would miss one day's feeding, but would be okay until we returned.  Our fish:  Jeff, Sam, Fiona, Dark Warrior, Snow, and Red Warrior were doing fabulous. The tank was looking beautiful thanks to our wonderful new algae eater.  All was well, until we returned.  The six fish were well, but all that was left of our algae eater was his skull.  It appeared that the fish had eaten him.  Once again, we made a trip to the pet store.  The cause of death appeared to be starvation.  He was too good at his job and there had been nothing left for him to eat.  When we were ready to purchase our next algae eater, we would need to purchase food for him, so when there wasn't algae to eat, he'd receive the food he needed.

We decided to wait a little bit before buying a new algae eater. We wanted to make sure we had enough algae for him to start with.  As we waited we became quite busy with life.  The boys would feed their fish in the morning, but weren't spending much time in classroom, because it was summer.  A couple weeks went by and the water wasn't changed.  And then it happened.  The fish week from you know where.

Bulldozer woke up to find Dark Warrior dead.  He blamed Dinomite because of Sam.  Fiona had babies, who were eaten, and then never recovered.  Just a day later, she died.  And then not two days later, we found that Sam had literally jumped out of the tank and killed himself.  We believe he was looking for the love of his life Fiona.  Even when she was dead, he was still by her side.  The boys were devastated.  I will admit I found myself cursing those little fish that were causing such BIG emotions.

And so we headed to the fish store again, to get water tested and to pick out two new fish, if all was well.  Our water was fine, so Dinomite brought home Red Tail.  Bulldozer brought home Oreo.  We also brought home our new algae eater with food.  Instantly Snow started attacking Oreo.  We couldn't figure out why for the life of us, until just a couple of days later we found more babies in the tank.  The two have mellowed out since then and even become friends, but definitely had a rough start.  Jeff was afraid of the new fish and hid for three days.  Bulldozer was so worried.  And Red Warrior... She just stayed near the top of the tank until two days later when she died.

So, we now have four fish, the only original left is Jeff, who's a pretty crazy fellow who loves to chase his reflection.  Snow is our second oldest fish and has claimed herself the alpha, taking no nonsense from anyone.  Oreo and Red Tail are doing great, and we're set to return to the fish store for two more fish this week, to return to our magic number six, in hopes that this time, all will go well.

I really couldn't have imagined that a fish tank in our classroom would change things so much.  There have definitely been some tough times, getting used to the sound of the filter, working without being distracted by fish, fish death, fish babies, etc., but I can not believe how much the experience is teaching my boys.  They have become so responsible.  Each morning they never hesitate and rarely need a reminder to feed the fish.  As the fish eat, they check up on every single one, reporting who's eating well, who's not, who's bullying another, and who's just being silly.  They've started to socialize with the workers at the pet store, asking questions, and carrying on real conversations.  Dinomite has discovered he enjoys putting his hands in the tank to help clean it, which is something I never thought he'd do.  The boys are taking so much pride in their work, wanting to show anyone and everyone their fish tank and fish.  The experience has been so full of learning.  And it continues.  Bulldozer wants another tank, this time a bigger one.  Dinomite has come to accept that baby fish get eaten and this time around, decided to watch it happen, commenting and reflecting on the experience positively.  If you don't have a pet in your Montessori classroom, whether at home or at school, you're missing out!  Because little fish can cause BIG emotions, and that's okay, because your kids will learn how to cope and deal with the BIG emotions.  I never would have thought mine could, but they have.

For more fish related posts, check out the posts below.

This post is part of the 12 Months of Montessori Series. For more posts about Montessori spaces, be sure to visit the links below.
Our 2016 Homeschool Room Tour | The Natural Homeschool
Montessori Homeschool Organization | Mama’s Happy Hive
Little Fish, BIG EMOTIONS | Every Star is Different
Start Your Homeschool Off Right  | Christian Montessori Network


  1. We love fish tanks! I could sit in front of one and just find so much peace in watching them swim along so calmly. Thank you for sharing your story!

  2. What a brilliant account of all the learning that can happen around keeping fish. We got a fish tank last year and have had some similar experiences. We have recently aquired 3 chickens! Let the learning begin....

  3. Such a great story. Fish tanks are wonderful! I'm so glad we had one when I was growing up.

  4. We were recently given a fish tank as a gift. It seemed like a good first pet to try after some incidents with dogs and cats that showed me they wouldn't be safe with my RAD kids.

    Your writing shows me some of the things we may run into that hadn't crossed my mind. Thank you. Keep up your great posts.

  5. Mavi wanted this! But of course we don't have space :D I love how you "documented" the entire process, your boys will love reading this post once they're all grown up and relive memories!

  6. Big pets and little pets can be so much work and emotion. I have nursed my beta fish back to health several times. Thankfully he is still alive!