The children petted a python, marveled at a giant scorpion, raked through sand for shells and examined fish during the culminating activity in a marine science unit in Nadine Sioma's kindergarten class at Hernando Christian Academy.
"We're doing a unit on the ocean, and we're doing animals and reptiles," Sioma said. "I couldn't take them to the gulf, so I brought the gulf to them."
She said she caught some of the specimens herself.
"Publix gave me a few things, and some of the parents brought things, but I caught the shark myself," she said of the small blacktip.
To add to her collection, Sioma invited John Anderson and Tracy Ervin, owners of J&T Reptiles and Exotics to HCA. They brought the snakes and the emperor scorpion, along with some snake skins, which they passed around. They had a gray-banded king snake, a Taiwan beauty rat snake and a ball python.
Sioma instructed her children at a long table set up outside her classroom. The fish, shells, a crab, king crab legs and a sea star were identified, and the children were allowed to examine them.
"We're teaching some conservation, and I'm trying to teach positives about sharks," Sioma said.
She wants the children to become aware at an early age not to abuse nature and natural resources.
"We have such wonderful natural resources here," she said.
She had also set up three pools. Two were filled with water and one with sand. One watery pool had shells, sponges, coral, sea stars and a seahorse for the children to touch. The other had shells and plastic marine toys, and the students were invited to scoop them up with nets. The pool with the sand had shells in it, and the children played with shovels and claws.
At the netting pool, a couple of children had filled a pail with plastic critters, causing others to complain that there was little left to scoop. Sioma took the opportunity to reinforce a lesson: "Catch and release," she said.
The children seemed to enjoy the outdoor activities.
Levi Scozzafava, 6, was most impressed with the python. His little brother, Trevan, 4, who had come for the afternoon to see the special lesson, preferred the scorpion.
"I like to see them," he said.
Mackenzie Harvey, 6, liked the shark.
"Because it looked beautiful," she said.
Her favorite snake was "Charlie," the rat snake, "because it's big."
And some of the children learned a few things.
"I learned that some of the snakes tied their prey, and once it's dead they eat it," said Chloe Liebler, 6.
Mark Sanchez, 6, found out something else.
"Snakes roll up in a ball and they get really scared and they roll up in a ball," he said.
The class finished the marine unit with a trip to the Florida Aquarium in Tampa.