If you asked me a year ago if I wanted a lizard as a pet, the answer would have been an emphatic, “NO,” followed by a shiver. Then, I went to fellow blogger Elizabeth Kyser’s library and met Dewey, a baby bearded dragon, and fell in love. It happens; have you seen The Shape of Water?
Why a lizard? Maybe it was because my eldest child was going to college, or maybe it was because my school mascot was a dragon, but I couldn’t let go of the idea of getting a library dragon. Lizards do not have fur, so there were no worries about allergies. Bearded dragons are the friendliest of pet lizards. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of a bearded dragon over any other classroom pet.
Pets in the classroom grants. After investigating the Pets in the Classroom website, I was convinced. There are many benefits to having a classroom pet. They encourage empathy and responsibility. I applied for a Pets in the Classroom Grant after talking to my admin. team. Applying was a quick, online process. The grant consisted of a coupon to PetSmart or Petco to get 50% off the pet you chose and coupons for housing and supplies. At full price, a bearded dragon and all his stuff can run over $300. I was able to get him set up for under $100. You can also apply for a $50 sustainability grant each year.
Bringing home baby. A couple of weeks later, I had my new baby, Merlin the Library Dragon. At the pet store, I was told to wait until Merlin was bigger before I started transporting him back and forth to school. The drastic change in temperature could kill him. Suddenly, I became that overprotective first-time parent…with my baby lizard! I decided that he would winter at home with me while my students learned how to care for a bearded dragon. This also gave me (someone who has NEVER been a lizard person) time to get adjusted to handling and caring for a bearded dragon.
School preparations. I chose 4th grade to share my new secret. They would research how to take care of a bearded dragon and then create FlipGrid videos sharing their research with the school. That spring, we were also doing One Book, One School, and our book was The World According to Humphrey, which is about the adventures of a class hamster. After the big Secrets according to Humphrey book reveal in March, I would reveal our very own library pet, Merlin.
A dragon in the library. My students loved Merlin. Every day, students who would never visit the library, were stopping by to say hello to Merlin. Flash-forward a year later and Merlin is now an integral part of our library. I was able to get a second 20 gallon tank donated to the library so I can transport Merlin between tanks on weekends and holidays. Lizard care tip: make sure you have plenty of hand sanitizer and baby wipes. Baby wipes are perfect for cleaning up the droppings in his tank.
Feeding fun. Merlin eats healthier than I do. He gets fresh greens, fruits, and dubia roaches. I discovered that dubia roaches are much easier than crickets to use as a food source for Merlin. Crickets require a weekly trip to the pet store, die quickly, and smell. Crickets jump around and are harder to catch. I order dubia roaches on Amazon. They are very hardy, and are higher in protein than crickets. They don’t smell bad and they can’t climb on plastic! When we have extra time, I have my students sit in a circle and place Merlin in the middle of the circle. I use feeding tongs to drop a roach in front of him. The kids love watching him chase and eat the roaches.
Reading time. After students check out, they may read or go to various centers and makerspace stations that are set up in the library. Building with Legos or IO Blocks, Harry Potter Chess, and Reading to a Stuffed Animal are just a few. Reading to Merlin has become our newest library center. Students love sitting in a chair and reading a book to Merlin. He sits in his aquarium and pays close attention to his reader. Merlin loves listening to stories. Every time I read to the students, he comes to the front of his tank and watches. One day, the students were roaring during choral reading, and Merlin started bobbing his head and waving his front leg, which is a defensive posture when bearded dragons feel threatened. Merlin seemed to think that there was a real lion in the library and was ready to do battle.
I would highly recommend a bearded dragon as a library pet. The upkeep for Merlin is very minimal, and the rewards are huge. Merlin has become a part of our school community, and the kids love him. Students who have never sat still during story time, are instantly engaged when Merlin is involved. Merlin has his own Instagram (merlin_greenfieldes) and he will soon be taking part in our school-wide reading promotion on Flipgrid. This month, I will be giving Merlin his own mailbox so students can write letters to him. The educational opportunities with a pet in the library are endless.
Author: Colleen R. Lee
Colleen R. Lee is a former middle school English teacher and Elementary Teacher. She is currently the Elementary Librarian at Greenfield Elementary School in Chesterfield County, VA. She is frantically working on the first draft of a YA Fantasy during NaNoWriMo this month. Follow her on Twitter @MrsLeesLibrary.