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Playing Preschool - Unit 16: Pets

Updated: Jun 6, 2021

A Companion Guide to Busy Toddler's Playing Preschool Curriculum

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A Child's Best Friend

Caring for a pet is a great way for children to learn responsibility and to become aware of the needs of others. But if you are following this curriculum, then you already have a toddler or preschooler so now may not be the best time to adopt a real pet, adding to your responsibilities. Dramatic play is a wonderful way for children to learn about the needs of their furry (or slimy, or wet) friends without the actual cost or commitment. I like how this unit explored which types of animals would make a good pet (and which wouldn't) as well as their attributes to help them imagine which would be a good fit. Even so, my toddler thinks that a dolphin would enjoy living in our bathtub.

Building Background Knowledge

I've said this before, but I always like to start each unit with a non-fiction book to give my child an overview of the topic. In this case, National Geographic Look & Learn: Pets was the perfect way to introduce the fact that pets have needs: water, food, exercise, play and attention/affection. We also tied it back to the Plants unit and recalled how plants need water, sun, soil and fertilizer.

That Loving Feeling

Meet Chocolate, our adorable Labrador Retriever. It was pretty incredible to see my toddler, whose capacity for empathy is almost non-existent at his age, embrace the idea of taking care of his new pet. As he learned about what his cuddly companion needed, he naturally wanted to give it to him. He took him on (supervised) walks in the woods beside our house every morning and evening, sometimes remembered to give him food and water and slept with him every night. He even gave him a check-up that was pretty much the cutest thing ever.

Video Links

Suggested Books

*Books with an asterisk are my Top 5 Picks to Add to Your Home Library for this unit

Additional Book List

Books in bold are also suggested books in another unit.



Additional Resources/Activities

If you don't have a pet, this unit lends itself to a lot of role play caring for a pet so encourage your child to "adopt" a pet! If you do have a pet, now is a great time to implement what they're learning and give them some responsibility.

Educational Games and Toys

Dramatic Play


  • Developing Life Skills: "Adopt" a pet for the duration of this unit (or longer)! Give it a name, give it a home and take care of it every day. It will take some reminding at first, but over the course of the two weeks, there were habits being developed.

  • Field Trip: Visit a pet store or animal shelter to visit the animals and see what kind of things are required to care for them. Be prepared to say no... or come home with a Betta fish like I did (see the "extension" section below).

  • Read Along Play Along Activity: Check out my post Read Along Play Along: Swimmy by Leo Lionni for an easy activity with Goldfish, the "snack that smiles back" or head over to Life Over C's blog for a fun pairing of If You Give a Dog a Donut and Cloud Dough.

  • Categorizing Activity: Draw a simple "T" chart on an oversized sheet of paper. Label one column "NO" in red and the other "YES" in green. Using Melissa and Doug's Animal stamp set, ask your child to decide if each animal would make a good pet and stamp each one in the appropriate column. After we finished, we reviewed by matching each impression to the stamp. You could also use your animal magnets, put a piece of tape on the fridge and take your categories vertical.

  • Cooking Activity: Bake "Dog" Biscuits using Sweet and Spicy Living's Shortbread Cookie Recipe or make your own Pumpkin Peanut Butter Dog Treats for the family dog with A Sparkle of Genius's recipe.

  • Sensory Bin: Use birdseed and a birdhouse, flowers, rocks, etc. to create a My Garden Bird Seed Sensory Bin from Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails.

  • Water Play: Set up Busy Toddler for Pre-K's Wash the Dog pet sensory activity.

  • STEM Activity: Build a home for the pet of your choice using materials you have on hand: pipe cleaners, Popsicle sticks, building blocks, Legos, cardboard boxes, etc. and have your child decorate it. This is a great chance for your child to practice using creativity but check out Pocketful of Preschool's Building Pet Homes freebie if you need more direction.

  • Easy Craft: To get ideas for your easy animal craft, search Pinterest for "paper plate pet craft for preschool." There are so many cool ones from snakes to goldfish to turtles to ducks that you are sure to find whatever pet your child would like to make. While you're there, follow me and my board "Playing Preschool with Busy Toddler" for more Pin-spiration!

  • Fine Motor Skills: Download Preschool Play & Learn's free Pets Playdough Mats for color-coded templates for shaping play dough into pets

  • Gross Motor Skills: Download Life Over C's Pet-themed Brain Break Dice printable to keep the fun rolling.

  • Art Activity: Try Mess for Less's Painting with Feathers.


  • We lost our sweet Sheltie and my dog of fifteen years, Cody, last summer. My son had just turned two so I doubt he will have any memories of him. While that makes me sad, I am also glad that he was too young to really understand. A few months later, we went to the pet store because we needed an outing and my son was really into ocean life so I told him we were going to the aquarium to see the fish. Long story short, we came home the proud new owners of a Betta fish name Darla (fans of Finding Nemo will understand the irony).

  • Buying a Betta fish was the perfect re-entry to pet ownership for a mother of two under two-and-a-half as they are relatively low-cost and low-maintenance. It is really a matter of feeding them daily and changing 20% of the water weekly (since we have a filtered tank). Also, because they are carnivorous (their food consists of krill) they can go up to two weeks without being fed, so there is no need to line up a pet sitter when you go on vacation (remember vacations???) Also, Betta fish are actually really beautiful and ours has something resembling a personality. My son loves calling her for breakfast/dinner and notices that she likes hiding in her cave and reminds me to give her exercise (five minutes with a floating mirror). Did I mention Darla is a male?

What was your favorite part of this unit? What other books did you read? What other activities did you do? Please share your photos and feedback in the Playing Preschool with Busy Toddler Curriculum Facebook Group in Photos/Albums/Year 1 Themes → Pets

Until next time, may your coffee be warm and your toddler be busy

Up Next: Playing Preschool: Unit 17 - Opposites

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