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Chris Elmore and Deann Venuti are opening KidStrong, a milestone acceleration program for children based on developmental science, in south Fort Myers’ Bell Tower shopping center. KidStrong, 13499 S. Cleveland Ave., Suite 159, offers 45-minute classes focusing on three pillars—brain development, physical development and character building.

Anticipated to open mid-January, parents can sign up their children from walking age to 11 years old to participate in the program. Each class and program are age-based with KidStrong-certified coaches, which requires a week-long certification process, as well as background checks.

The 4,350-square-foot facility will allow two classes to run concurrently. From learning how to shake hands while maintaining eye contact to burpees and team-building exercises, KidStrong seeks to help children grow into well-rounded people.

Programming for classes is done at the national level by child development experts, including experts in fields of pediatric occupational therapy, child development, sports physiology and physical education. “The programs aren’t designed locally by those coaches. They’re just implementing the programs that are well thought out by the national team,” Elmore said.

With the tagline “helping kids win at life,” a carefully curated program and certified coaches are essential to children’s success in the program.

Programs, such as KidStrong, come at a time when the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are impacting child development. Research from Columbia University and the National Institute of Health report a rise in developmental delays and behavioral disorders for children whose early years took place during the pandemic and for babies born during the pandemic.

KidStrong is a resource to help children empower themselves and allow parents join in the process, Venuti said.

Every class starts with affirmations that state “I am strong, I am brave, I can do this,” before warmups. For younger kids, a warmup can look like a game of The Floor is Lava, with the intent of releasing energy. Brain and character development parts of the program are sprinkled in between, or even coupled with blocks of physical activity.

“The brain part we only do for about 15 to 30 seconds because the kids will get distracted,” Venuti said. “In between all these things, we usually do some sort of physical thing and have them running around. We’ll do maybe 15 to 30 seconds of some sort of brain or character building, and then we go back to the physical.”

During the brain and character-building portions, parents are encouraged to be involved. “We really want them to be paying attention to those pieces of it, so that they can go home and work with the kids,” Venuti said.

There is a rank-and-award system at KidStrong similar to karate, in which children can move up in ranks depending on classes attended and progress.

Ranking is designed to teach children long-term goal setting, starting at foundational ranks to build confidence and grow into a leader, then leadership ranks and eventually advanced and elite ranking.

“We want to [develop] kids who are going to be strong and strong leaders in the future and help their parents do that,” Venuti said. “We’re kind of a medium in between what they can learn in school and then what they can learn from their parents.”

Children 3 and under must have their parents on the floor with them. “It’s not just two coaches dealing with a bunch of 2- and 3-year-olds, the parents are actually there, and they’re there helping and helping the kids go through whatever the class is that day.”

There are typically 10 to 15 children per class with two coaches. To further involve parents, a mobile app that goes along with the program can be used to help parents track their children’s progress. There is also a member-only Facebook page, where KidStrong staff share pictures of classes for parents.

Elmore and Venuti are franchisees for the entire Southwest Florida region, from as far north as Sarasota to as far south as Naples. Currently contracted to open three stores in Southwest Florida, other KidStrong locations can be expected, with a close eye on a Naples location once real estate is available for such a facility.

“Our goal is to get as many members before we open because it just creates such a fun atmosphere for the kids,” Venuti said.

KidStrong will be open from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends.

“The important thing is people don’t think of it as, ‘Oh this is just a little gym place where I’m going to drop my kid off,’” Elmore said. “It’s a fully thought out, 360-degree development program, really trying to get these milestones advanced as the child goes through the program and sticks with the program, so that they can become more independent and confident.”

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