Fishkeeping has been a very popular hobby that kids enjoy and interacting with fish can actually be very beneficial to their health, as many studies have found. This blog focuses on 11 best fish for kids to keep under 5 years.
Turning a kid’s enthusiasm for fish into a lasting hobby requires a realistic understanding of what keeping fish in a home setup really involves. For starters, there are various interconnected systems that must be maintained in perfect order to ensure the survival rate of your little animals.
This includes the size of the tank, type of water, water chemistry, and type of food that you can feed them. Most fish cannot live outside their tank for very long either. And fish definitely won’t survive in a bowl for very long – it just isn’t good for their lifespan and growth.
The good news is that most freshwater and saltwater species are rather easy to take care of. The only things your kid has to do are feed them on time, regularly change their water, and perform routine husbandry procedures to keep the tank clean.
We have rounded up our list of 11 best fish for kids. They’re vibrant, full of personality, and will teach your kid about being a responsible person early on.
1. Guppies (freshwater)
Guppies are decked with all sorts of colors, a feature that captivates kids because they like visuals. You’ll find guppies in all shades of color and sizes, and their physical characteristics are an indication of their origins.
Because of their vivid colors, they’re sometimes referred to as Rainbow Fish. They primarily come from South American waters, which is a popular source for other colorful fish species.
Guppies belong to the Poeciliidae family with more than 35 fish, most of which are in great demand worldwide by hobbyists. The care requirements for most Guppies are relatively easy for beginners and kids alike. Indeed, these fish serve as great introductory species for children.
Most guppies will never exceed 2.5 inches in length and usually average around to 0.5 inches in size, this allows them to be kept in smaller tanks that are just 10 gallons or less. To ensure the survivability of your guppy fish, you will have to mimic their natural habitat – and that is very easy to do, for the most part.
Just make sure to keep the tank clean, feed them with a varied diet, and keep them with compatible tank mates.
This will ensure your guppy fish seldom if ever, become sick. Feeding guppies is an easy affair because they are omnivorous species and will eat mostly anything that fits in their mouth. They are shoaling species and prefer to be around their own kind, the greater their numbers, the happier they will be.
If you place more guppies in a tank, they will show off their colors too. But you’ll have to increase the tank size to reflect their numbers. Guppies are good fish for kids with a total lifespan of 2 years.
They are livebearers and don’t need much coaxing to breed; this means they will quickly double their population in no time. This makes it necessary to create a 20-gallon aquarium.
Wondering how to take care for fish? Click here for an in-depth guide on Guppies.
2. Neon Tetra (freshwater)
Neon tetras are one of the most popular aquarium fish because of their stunning colors that almost seem to glow when viewed from the right angles.
They feature a turquoise blue line that originates from their eyes down to their adipose fin. In addition to the blue hues, they also have a red stripe that stretches from the middle of their body down to the caudal fin.
The contrast between the red and blue makes for an interesting visual experience that will keep kids occupied for a long time.
Although their care requirements are typically on the easy side, Neon Tetras are highly susceptible to “Neon disease”, an incurable disease that can prove to be lethal to them.
The pathogen responsible for Neon Disease, Pleistophora hyphessobryconis, has the potential to wipe out the entire stock in your tank, so watch out. Teach your kid about the importance of quarantining anything and everything before they introduce something into the aquarium.
In most cases, however, Neon Tetras have well-developed immune systems that allow them to ward off attacks from most pathogens and parasites.
They are social creatures and prefer to hang out with their own kind and other species too. Make sure to provide them with compatible tank mates (with similar temperament and size) to start your own community aquarium.
You can keep Neon Tetras in a 10-gallon tank because they don’t grow longer than 1.5 inches in length. They are omnivorous creatures but prefer to eat more meats and vegetables.
Wondering how to take care of a fish? Here is a detailed guide on Neon Tetras.
3. Angelfish (freshwater)
You can choose from freshwater and saltwater species, but the former have generally easier care requirements. They’ve undergone years of selective breeding to achieve unique color attributes and other physical traits such as spots, stripes, marbled colors, and special pigmentation. Almost all species of Angelfish feature a triangular body with an arrowhead.
Their fins are proportionally large compared to the rest of their body. This makes it hard to miss them in a tank.
Most Angelfish varieties are omnivorous species but prefer to eat meat. In the wild, they are seen preying on small live creatures, so giving them live treats like daphnia and shrimp is the best way to keep them happy. Angelfish are mostly native to the Amazon River in South America. The good news is that these conditions are not difficult to replicate in a home tank.
Do keep in mind that these fish will reach heights of up to 6 inches which is usually 4 times the average size of most guppies, this requires buying a suitable 20-gallon tank that is tall and wide enough to accommodate their size.
The tank should have plenty of open spaces as well as decorations. While Angelfish are docile species, you may notice their tempers flare up from time to time, this is normal. You can keep their temper in check by picking compatible tank mates that won’t bully them.
Here is all you need to know about Angelfish.
4. Kuhli Loaches (freshwater)
Kuhli Loaches are handsome eel-like fish with a body structure that is almost entirely unique to them. For starters, their sides are slightly compressed,
they have four pairs of barbels around their mouth and tiny fins. Speaking of fins, the dorsal fin grows behind the middle of their body. They have several spines located underneath their eyes, which is where they get their name from, which translates into ‘thorn eye’.
Their unusual shapes and movements will keep your kids occupied for hours as they watch the Kuhli Loach slither out of their cave to grab food dropped into the tank.
In the majority of cases, Kuhli Loaches are peaceful fish that make ideal tank mates for most fish. They’re also used as a ‘clean up’ crew because they look for food morsels that float to the tank. If your kid has got other fish in the tank, such as guppies and they’re not able to finish their food quickly enough or have had their fill, leave it to the Kuhli Loach to clean up the food.
They are classified as omnivorous scavengers and will eat just about anything in the tank once it sinks to the bottom. Just make sure to keep the tank reasonably clean and well oxygenated. Use high-quality filters to regulate the water’s quality levels and keep it reasonably oxygenated. Air pumps are also very efficient at oxygenating the water.
For obvious reasons, Kuhli Loaches need a soft substrate such as sand and fine gravel mix to comfortably navigate their tank.
Need more pet fish info for Kuhli Loaches? Here is the in-depth guide on Kuhli Loaches.
5. Dwarf Gourami (freshwater)
Dwarf Gouramis belong to the Osphronemidae family. They occupy the top and middle levels of the tank. They never exceed 2 inches in size, hence the name ‘dwarf’. Dwarf Gouramis make for a great ‘starter’ fish for kids because of their care requirements. Moreover, they’re hardy with well-developed immune systems and peaceful temperaments.
The skittish Dwarf Gourami will almost never give their tank mates a hard time and mostly keep to themselves. Dwarf Gouramis are considered to be labyrinth fish, which means they can breathe oxygen directly from the air, hence why they stay closer to the water’s surface. In terms of color, you will see several variants including rainbow, neon, blue, and red.
These colors will spruce up your tank and add visual interest that can captivate small children for hours. The care requirements for Dwarf Gourami are very easy to provide for a child. Because they’re an omnivorous species, they can eat almost anything you give them. In the wild, they’re known for hunting after small insects from the water surface and algal growth on water plants.
In a home tank, they can eat freeze-dried food, frozen foods, flake food, and vegetables. To maintain their color, make sure to periodically enrich their diet with live foods such as worms.
6. Goldfish (freshwater)
Goldfish are a staple in most households these days because of their relatively easy care requirements. The ease of care gave rise to the urban myth that goldfish can survive in bowls – this is simply not the case. Goldfish need a properly maintained tank just like any other fish. They belong to the Cyprinidae family and originate in Eastern Asia.
Although they’re not the same, Goldfish share many similarities with carp. They look very similar to Koi, with the exception that they don’t have any barbels or whispers in the corners of their mouth. Through selective breeding, many unique goldfish strains have different colors, shapes, and fin types.
In the wild, the body’s optimum temperature is usually around 69 to 73 degrees Fahrenheit. This is easy to recreate in most home tanks. Just make sure water chemistry and quality don’t rapidly change otherwise it could harm your goldfish.
Word of caution, Goldfish generate a lot of biological waste that could quickly pollute the water conditions and shorten their lifespan. Just install a high-quality filter and regularly change the water every few weeks.
In terms of diet, Goldfish are omnivorous species. They will eat live plants, flake, granules, brine shrimp, daphnia, and vegetables. You can also supplement their diet with small invertebrates, duckweed, and scalded peas.
7. Clownfish (saltwater)
The upkeep requirements for saltwater fish are generally tougher than freshwater fish, but clownfish simplify this process. They are very tough and can survive a range of water conditions (as long as they don’t deteriorate too much from the ideal requirements).
Your kid will recognize Clownfish from the popular Disney flick, Finding Nemo, in which case they’ve probably made up their mind about keeping them as pets. The care requirements for “Marlin” are easy, making it a great choice for kids who’ve never started a saltwater tank before.
Clownfish don’t require a large tank to enjoy a healthy life and can add a new element of fun to your kid’s life. They are intelligent, curious, and decked with stunning colors that will reward your children for a long time to come.
Perhaps more importantly, they set the foundation for your tank so that you can add more tank mates in the future. As a general rule, if your Clownfish is doing well in their tank, other hardy saltwater species like Tangs and Dottyback should also do fine. Clownfish are semi-aggressive and will get along with most fish, as long as they’re not too small.
8. Swordtails (freshwater)
Like Guppies, swordtails are livebearers that are relatively easy to breed. They prefer to live in hard water with 12 to 30 dGH and an ideal water pH value of 7 to 8.3. These conditions are easy to provide. Just make sure the water is properly filtered to keep the water parameters in agreeable conditions.
What makes Swordtails so unique is their elongated appearance. They grow to a size of 5 inches and have a very long extension of the lower tail fin lobe, which is where they get their name from. Swordtails are omnivorous fish that will accept a wide variety of foods including daphnia, fruit flies, brine shrimp, and bloodworms.
They also prefer to eat a lot of vegetation in their natural habitat. In order to keep them looking healthy and vibrant, make sure to feed them a mix of protein and vegetables that meet their exact dieting needs.
When it comes to compatibility with other fish, Swordtails are peaceful and docile. They will get along well with their tank mates, including species from their own kind.
In fact, Swordtails prefer to swim in groups of 5 or more fish because it gives them confidence. The only thing you have to note is the aggression levels, which seem to escalate during the breeding season.
9. Zebra Danios (freshwater)
Zebra Danios are a very hardy and active species that are perfect for kids, and will spruce up any tank. Like guppies, they can be found in a range of color variations that will add visual interest to any community aquarium.
Within shoals, they will automatically create a hierarchal system of dominance that is established through non-aggressive behavior.
There’s power in numbers, and the Zebra Danios does well if there’s more of them in a tank. The minimum tank size for a single Zebra Danios is 10 gallons, but you should increase the tank size depending on your stock.
Zebra Danios are easy to care for and if you maintain the tank in a reasonably clean state, you can maintain it to a high standard and prevent diseases. To keep them healthy and happy, feed them lots of proteins and algae-based flake food. As a general rule, do not feed them more than they can consume in 3 minutes. Overfeeding Zebra Danios can contribute to higher bio-load, which makes matter worse for all fish in the tank.
10. Mollies (freshwater)
Thanks to the elegance and friendliness of mollies so that we have enlisted it in our list of 11 best fish for kids. Mollies are a stunning freshwater fish that have been interbred for centuries, resulting in some of the most visually interesting species we’ve ever seen.
You have the Black Molly fish with a solid black coloring, the Lyretail Mollyfish with a long and flowy caudal fin, the Balloon Molly fish with its white body and black speckles, and the Red Molly Fish with a distinct red body and black fins.
The variability in fin type and color is huge, and your local aquarium store may feature a different version of them altogether.
They are mostly omnivorous species fish and enjoy a varied diet comprising of meat-rich food and plants in the wild. It’s not difficult to mimic their diet in a home tank. They have a voracious diet for algae, which makes them excellent tank cleaners, so your kid will have to do less cleaning on their part.
Another valuable quality of the Molly fish is their compatibility with other freshwater species. They are peaceful and will keep to themselves. Just make sure to avoid aggressive fish that may decide to give Mollyfish a hard time.
Check out the in-depth guide on Mollies here.
11. Corydoras Cat Fish (freshwater)
The Corydoras Cat fish is among the easiest species to provide for. They are peaceful, will eat just about anything, and extremely active. Your kid will be fascinated with these curious bottom dwellers as they methodically scavenge the tank, looking for some food to eat.
The typical size of Corydoras Cat fish is about 1 to 2.5 inches in length. They have a thicker head that tapers off near the tail, creating a unique triangle-shaped appearance.
The key to making your Corydoras Catfish happy is to provide them with at least 2 inches of tank gravel on the aquarium’s bottom. Make sure to add lots of plants and caves because Corydoras Catfish love to hide and rest.
You can feed them basic food such as fish flakes and pellets, but Cory Catfish are very adept at hunting for uneaten food and will clean the tank up from leftovers. Don’t rely on their scavenging ability to meet their nutritional needs however – always make sure they have enough food to eat.
They are bottom dwellers with a non-aggressive nature, this allows them to get along with most freshwater fish including Mollies, Swordtails, and Guppies.
Check out the in-depth guide on Corydoras fish here.
Wrapping Up – Fish Care
Owning a tank, whether it’s freshwater or saltwater, comes with an ethical responsibility to look after a living creature. Regardless of the fish you choose from the above list, they have special interests that need to be looked after.
You’ll have to study what gets them excited, what food groups they eat, the water chemistry they enjoy, and the tank mates they get along with (and the ones that they hate).
It is best to choose hardy species that are more forgiving to beginners who may not know everything about fishkeeping. Make sure to click on the links provided to learn more about the specific care requirements for each fish.