Updated: Jun 6, 2022
The growing mind of a child craves stimulation and input. You’d be surprised how much an aquarium can satisfy that craving while supplementing a bounty of learning opportunities.
Here is a list of the benefits of caring for an aquarium with your child.
Creating a real world and physical, kinesthetic connection to the topics kids read about to increase comprehension and retention.
Providing quality stimuli for the growing mind that is varied, but not overwhelming
Developing critical thinking skills by solving common aquarium problems
Learning the basics of science as they pertain to the aquarium
Involving the whole family in a fun and educational activity.
In this article, I'll go through each of these benefits and how you and your kids can implement them to get the most out of your aquarium.
Real World Connection and Visual Cues
According to a literature review of several popular strategies for improving reading comprehension and retention, engaging the mind with the topic being read about in as many ways as possible will increase the retention of the information drastically. For example, if you and your kids read a chapter in a book about coral reefs, then look at pictures of corals and fishes, you are engaging more parts of the brain, which helps retention.
Now imagine how high the comprehension and retention rate could be if you immersed yourself in your very own aquatic world after reading a chapter about the aquatic sciences. Involving as many senses as possible helps increase retention. The visuals, sounds, smells, and even touch of the aquarium can perfectly supplement any related reading you and your kids enjoy, whether it be for fun, or for school.
Aquariums Help Develop Responsibility
Every parent has heard of starting your child off with a goldfish in a bowl to prep them for taking care of a dog, or the conversation about death. However, fish tanks are much more useful than a simple prep course in animal care. Responsibility is more than just remembering to complete tasks reliably. It is about a sense of ownership and pride associated with something that is important to you.
Giving your child an aquarium to take care of gives them a low-stakes opportunity to build a living ecosystem from scratch. They have the opportunity to relish in their achievements. Much like enjoying the feeling of seeing your dog mastering a trick you taught them, seeing your aquarium run successfully because of the hard work you put into it is a rewarding experience that reinforces responsible behavior.
Whenever I maintain tanks at client's homes with kids present, they always want to be involved and are eager to learn what I'm doing.
Inspiring To Do More
Who knows what can cause a spark in our imaginations and inspire us to do great things. Because of the complexity of the aquarium, a child can be easily inspired by almost any aspect of it. Whether it be the biology of the fish, invertebrates, or corals, the chemistry of the nitrogen and nutrient cycles, or the physics of hydrology and flow, an aquarium offers many mysteries to explore.
The menagerie of science and life inside an aquarium offers something for everyone. While one child might be interested in the scientific principles at play, another may be fascinated by the aesthetics. One sibling can scape beautiful environments and the other tests the water. With aquariums, there is truly something for everyone.
Fostering these sparks of inspiration, and allowing them to turn into burning questions creates hungry minds eager to learn more. They may fizzle out eventually, or they may burn for a lifetime.
The Young Plastic Mind
Plasticity refers to the malleable nature of a young mind and its ability to change drastically when growing. Humans evolved with a maximum level of stimulus peaking at the most complicated natural environments. Today, normal stimuli far exceeds a natural environment as we are exposed to the bright sounds and colors of television, traffic, mobile games, and more. Long term research is still being conducted regarding how this increased stimuli affects young minds, but I think it's safe to say there is most likely an effect, good or bad.
Aquariums are a quality and natural source of stimuli for young minds. They are busy and colorful without being overly stimulating or unnatural. Fish tanks can be calming and beneficial for all ages, as I discussed in a previous post on relieving stress, but for young minds, they aid in developing important neural connections.
Arguably one of the most important aspects of learning for a child is thinking critically. Critical thinking far exceeds remembering dates and facts in importance. In days past and especially today, dates and facts can be looked up in reference material when that information is relevant. Critical thinking however, constantly aids in literally every aspect of life. From problem solving and making good judgements, to arriving at accurate conclusions and not falling for logical fallacies, critical thinking could not be more crucial, especially when we are young and are spending most of our time in formal education.
Aquariums are an excellent source of material from which to learn how to think critically. Aquariums can be rife with questions and problems that need solutions; some mundane, others more serious. How do snails eat, why do the fish swim that way, why is there algae, what kind of algae is that, how do fish eat? Every single question a child could ask about their aquarium is a learning opportunity to teach problem solving and critical thinking skills.
As a complete ecosystem, aquariums incorporate many basic and advanced biological, chemical, and physical scientific principles. For the youngest of hobbyists, the basics are readily available in any aquarium to be observed, pondered, and studied. For older kids, fish tanks still provide active and live examples of many scientific principles. You can get as in depth with these concepts as you wish depending on the age and interests of your child.
Aquariums allow us to study biological principles like fish diet, behavior, and anatomy, plant physiology, taxonomy, and photosynthesis, coral development and classification, and invertebrate habitats. We can also explore chemical principles like nitrogen, nutrient, and water cycles, ion exchanges, chemical concentrations in a solution, and the effect of toxic chemicals. Lastly, aquariums allow us to study physical principles like hydrology, water flow, and sediment layering.
Learning about science, retaining information better, and thinking critically are all well and good, but nothing beats doing these things with the ones you love. Nothing beats seeing the excitement on your child’s face as they explore their aquatic world. Having a focal point around which to schedule time together can give busy parents an excuse to set aside some time and build something useful and beautiful with their kids.
An aquarium, to a child, is not just a glass tank with fish. It is an underwater world to be explored. It can help them understand and better retain their readings. It can give them something to build and be proud of and develop their responsibility. It can inspire them to learn and do more. It can shape and stimulate their minds while teaching the sciences. Aquariums can even bring families together in a fun and educational environment. Aquariums are powerful tools. Experiment with your own aquarium and how you can involve it in your child’s life.
Schnell, T. R., & Rocchio, D. J. (1978). A Comparison of Underlying Strategies for Improving Reading Comprehension and Retention. Reading Horizons: A Journal of Literacy and Language Arts, 18 (2). Retrieved from https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/reading_horizons/vol18/iss2/4