Pets and kids — for many of us they go hand in hand. I can’t imagine growing up without a pet. Pets teach children so many important lessons: how to responsibly care for another living thing, how to love unconditionally, and how to deal with life and death. I am always saddened when I hear a child doesn’t or can’t have a pet. That’s where the classroom pet comes in. Although certain schools have rules about what kinds of pets can be housed in the classroom based on allergies, exposure to infection, local laws, etc., I am constantly asked what animals make the best classroom pets. Of course, the short answer depends on what type of animal — scaly, feathered or furred — the kids and teachers are most interested in. The long answer is that there are three types of pets I readily recommend for the classroom.
1. Classroom-Friendly Reptiles
Reptiles can make great classroom pets because they are quiet and interesting to watch and generally live a long time. The simplest reptiles to start with are leopard geckos, bearded dragons and corn snakes. All are fairly docile and remain relatively small. They are colorful and fairly simple to take care of as far as reptiles go. In comparison to small mammals or birds that have very high metabolisms and require daily feeding, these reptiles have slow metabolisms and can generally go a couple of days without eating. The benefit of that is, if they are healthy, they need not be fed over the typical two-day weekend when school is closed.
Like all reptiles, these kid-friendly species have specific light and heat requirements and must be fed specific diets in order to remain healthy. All should be provided with ultraviolet (UV) light for several hours a day. This allows them to make adequate vitamin D in their skin to help them absorb essential nutrients from their food. Leopard geckos are insectivores; they eat insects like mealworms and crickets. Bearded dragons are omnivores; they eat some vegetation, as well as insects. Corn snakes are carnivores; they eat mice. Diet, therefore, may be very important when selecting a species for the classroom.
All reptiles also require multivitamin supplementation and exposure to water so they can soak and stay hydrated for proper skin shedding. They also need paper-based, digestible bedding in their tanks so that they can bury, dig and hide without caregivers having to worry about their pets’ gastrointestinal tracts becoming obstructed if they ingest the material. These animals also need rocks and branches on which to climb and covered areas in which to hide.