I’m writing this article not as a hobbyist, but rather as parent that wants to have a small tank at home for the kids. So experts, please ignore this section of my site. Though a lot of material exists on the Internet, I’ll just give you some advice to start you off. So, these are my suggestions to parents who had never had a tank before.

Well, you want to get an aquarium. Your kid might want to get a fish, or maybe you just want a pet at home and think a fish is a great place to start. And I agree; fish are excellent pets. The problem is that is, though, this is your first experience with fish. The number one thing to understand is that you’ll end up taking care of the fish, not the kid. Of course, there is a possibility that the kid will get involved, or even get very interested. In this case, you might end up having a fish maniac like me and that would be their hobby for life.

Some useful stuff before you start:

Before you start your glorious fish adventure, I would suggest getting the basics of pH and water hardness. There’s plenty of info on that on the Internet, of course. I’m not asking you to memorize entire essays on water conditioning, only to get the terminology and things like: What does pH and water hardness mean? And if you’d like to learn about it in much more detail, well, feel free to do so! Another thing to understand is the nitrogen cycle in aquarium; this will help to set up the tank. pH and Water Hardness

Tank size

Since you’re probably not a full-blown fish care-taker, you’d most likely want to spend as less time as possible taking care of the tank. After all, time is of the essence. Let talk about size first. Small tanks seem like a safe bet, after all, you can stick them anywhere! But… before you go and buy a 1, 2, or even 5-gallon tank, think twice. This is because small tanks actually require more maintenance, believe it or not. Small tanks need more frequent water changes than bigger tanks. A family tank between 10 - 30 gallons would do the trick. And if you want to have an even bigger tank, be my guest! In order to have complete system, you would need light and filter. Luckily, you can buy a complete set with both in any fish store. Another good idea is to place your tank somewhere away from sunlight, otherwise you would to need to clean your tank from algae.


Well now that you’ve got your hardware, it’s a good idea to test your water. The fish store can do that for you or you can buy a test kit and do it yourself. The test kit can be useful later, too. Also, you would need to buy some water conditioner. It removes chlorine and more importantly chloramine, and some other unnecessary elements that could harm your fish. You would probably need some pH adjustments or a buffer solution for your water but that depends on your water parameters and which fish you’re going to choose.

Aquarium Setup Choices

Since all of the information in this article is completely my opinion, experts please skip this. There are many different aquarium set-ups but I don’t want to overload you with information. Let’s talk about several easy, low maintenance set-ups.

Livebearers / corydoras

This would be the simplest set-up. Livebearers are guppies, swordtails, mollies, and platies. There are more fish classified as Livebearers, including the tiger shark, but we’re not going to cross the line over there yet. American Livebearer Association. Livebearers will occupy the middle and top portion of your tank. Corydoras is a family of small cat fish that will occupy the bottom of your tank. You can browse the internet for different choices of livebearers and corys. The water condition for those fish would be neutral pH 7.

Similar setup variation

Instead of livebearers you can use tetras, barbs, or danios. These fish are school fish, though, so buy at least six of whatever kind you choose. Some lyretail killies (Aphyosemion australe or Fundulopanchax gardneri) can be used instead. As alternative to corydoras you can buy dwarf cichlids like Rams.

Live Plants or not Live Plants, Plastic Decoration or Not Plastic Decoration

Before I move to next tank set up, let’s talk about plants and plastic. Yes, as long time hobbyist I like live plants and hate all plastic decoration. Yes, I’d rather not have the whole Spongebob gang in my tank, but I’m realistic. When we set up a fish show with my local club, we asked people: Which tank is better? Since the majority of the voters were small kids they chose pink tank set up with a lot of plastic decorations in it. It’s the truth; kids like having cartoon characters in their tank, or funky deco. So I will leave that choice to the parents. It’s the same story with gravel, if you would like to have pink gravel, well, go ahead! But if you’d like to know about a live plants set-up, you can visit these people Aquatic Gardeners Associatio. If you become addicted, after viewing their annual aquascape competition, do not blame me.

African Cichlid Setup

You’ll need a bigger tank for these fish: 20 gallon and up. 20 gallons would be good for the dwarf species; I would say 40 and up for the rest. If you set up this tank you’ll enjoy fish with not only nice coloration, but with a lot of attitude. But beware… this fish is very aggressive and territorial, so you’ll need to build a lot of hiding places. So your decorations would be caves and rocks. Another requirement is that the water should be pH 8.0 and up to 9.0 depending on the species, and also very hard. You can find a lot of suggestions on the Internet about African cichlids. American Cichlid Association

Angel Fish Set up

You can use the same water condition as the first tank suggestion, and still keep nice angel fish. You can even use the same corydoras or rams for the bottom section, and also have some school fish. In this case the size of the tank should be 30 gallons and up. Angel fish are very nice looking fish.

There are much more setups, including big cichlids or some other species, but once again, there’s a whole lot of information available on the Internet

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