Coloring with a purpose

  • Scarlett Kasunick, 3, has fun coloring with materials donated by the Mary Lyon Foundation. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Ruby Kasunick, 8, colors with materials donated by the Mary Lyon Foundation in her Buckland home. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Scarlett Kasunick, 3, and her sister Ruby Kasunick, 8, color with materials donated by the Mary Lyon Foundation in their Buckland home. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • A page from “Color The Be Coloring Book.” Contributed photo/beminders.org

Staff Writer
Published: 6/25/2020 9:25:36 AM

When schools closed in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic and parents were left in search of activities to do with their kids, James Sullivan, of Colrain, was reminded of a greeting card-type project he began a few years ago.

But that project, called Beminders, was aimed at adults, Sullivan said, and he wanted to develop something similar for kids.

After a little research and talking to friends who are teachers, Sullivan, who works as a program and outreach coordinator at Great Falls Cable, came up with the idea to develop “Color The Be Coloring Book,” an online coloring book that can be accessed and colored digitally as well as printed out and colored by hand. Sullivan commissioned retired kindergarten teacher and Western Massachusetts children’s book illustrator Micha Archer to create the artwork and built the website himself — something he’s been doing since the 1990s. 

Similar to the original Beminders project, each of the 20 or so coloring pages, which all feature an artistic rendering of honeybees, has the word “be” followed by an adjective or phrase describing how a person should act.

The website, which notably features a user-friendly digital platform where kids can color online, introduces the coloring book by noting, “children begin to have all kinds of new experiences early in life parents can begin to teach them ‘life lessons’ about good values, good manners and good behavior that they will use in their relationships and interactions with family, friends, and teachers, etc. — at school, at home and at play. Many of these early lessons can be summarized in a phrase that starts with the word ‘be’ — for example — ‘be honest,’ ‘be kind,’ ‘be polite,’ ‘be respectful.’”

A footnote on the website says bees, which aptly illustrate the ‘be’ concept, were also selected because of their importance to the local food supply and because they’re so endangered. More than an opportunity to fill time, Sullivan says the book can provide a chance for caretakers to have meaningful conversations with their children.

“When it says, ‘be polite’… the parent could explain with a real-life example about how important it is to be polite in life,” Sullivan said. “It makes it a fun learning experience, and something parents and kids could share together.” 

The printed coloring book evolved after the project’s inception. Sullivan says he wanted to consider members of the community without internet access.

“That’s where I had the idea for people to print out the uncolored pages,” he said. “I wanted to make both available.”

To that end, he reached out to Sue Samoriski, executive director at the Mary Lyon Foundation, a Shelburne Falls-based nonprofit. Samoriski offered to print and distribute the books throughout area schools. 

“We’ve done a lot for the older students and the teachers and the staff ... to support the teachers who are instructing remotely,” she said, noting the postage and stamps, and webcams the foundation has already provided to schools. “And we felt it was important to make sure we … underscored the importance of doing something for the early childhood education portion of the student body.”

The 16-page coloring book is geared toward students as young as pre-school age, according to Samoriski.

“This coloring book was precisely what we wanted,” she said. 

The foundation — which was incorporated in 1991 to support all aspects of education in West County — printed 100 copies of the book and purchased 100 boxes of Crayola crayons at a discounted rate from Baker’s Office Supply, she said. The books and crayons were then distributed to families at Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School and Colrain Central School. 

“We’re thrilled to be able to partner with (Sullivan) and generate coloring books ... for children in the school district,” Samoriski said.

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263. Twitter: @MaryEByrne

How to connect

Sullivan can be reached at colorthebe@gmail.com. The website can be found at beminders.org/colorthebe


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