WEEKI WACHEE — Winding Waters K-8 kindergartener Gabriella Santoro, 5, sat at a cafeteria table among about 160 classmates, each displaying his or her stuffed pet at the kindergarten classes' first pet show.
Gabriella's pet was a penguin named Sharky. The toy was pushed part way through a hole in the lid of a plastic container. Inside was a simulation of the ocean, including hanging fish so they looked like they were swimming.
Gabriella said she learned that the birds eat fish. "Penguins live in ice," she said. "They live in the cold weather."
The pet show was coordinated through the efforts of kindergarten teachers Laura Santiago, Jesha Ames, Lauren Bouren, Rebekah Csont, Crystal Erskine, Margaret Matera, Jillian Minicino and Joanne Kozlow.
The students researched their chosen animal, their habitats, needs and wants, Santiago, 37, explained. "Largely, it was a writing assignment," she said.
The show was the culmination for parents, grandparents and guardians. "It certainly involved the family aspect," Santiago said, "and community and to watch the children shine."
Jessica Santiago, 6, Laura Santiago's daughter, was showing off her stuffed cat, Gracie, which was displayed in a box that looked like a child's room. Jessica said she learned "that they (cats) can only see certain colors and when they don't have an owner, they can find their own food and water."
Ames, 26, one of the teachers, was the school's science fair director and noted the value of the science research the project required. "This is a way to get children involved at an early age," she said. "They'll have been exposed and hopefully more interested than they had in the past."
Dorothy Cona, 57, grandmother of Skylar Lambert, 6, said the lesson gave the children computer and research experience. "I think it's a great learning experience for the kids," she said.
Linda Jorgensen, 56, grandmother of Tatianna DeGuzman, 5, said it made her granddaughter think. Tatianna made a fish habitat.
"It was all her idea," Jorgensen said, noting that the show was a "big change from when I was in kindergarten, that's for sure."