Singing the Praises of Elementary School Musical

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Singing the Praises of Elementary School Musical

Most of you know me as Dr. Mac, with more than 30 years of family therapy practice and the author of numerous articles and books on parenting.

What you may not know is that I’m also a music director, songwriter and creator of educational entertainment for children, including having worked on the animated PBS series Jay Jay the Jet Plane, and created the award-winning CD series Happy Kids Songs.

I’ve recently collaborated with a great team of people, including award winning playwrights Judy Stevens Long and Mark Young to create an exciting new play called Elementary School Musical. And I’m proud to share the news that Elementary School Musical was just named Best 2018 Kids’ CD of the Year by Creative Child Magazine.


This play has been called “edutainment at its best”—the powerful combination of music, messages and performance all rolled into one.

In the opening scene, a scruffy old dog stumbles onto the school playground and seems to be deathly ill. Fido’s family can’t afford a vet, so a group of six kids set off on a wild adventure to offer help.

One child takes possession of a futuristic iGadget that helps guide them in their hunt for treasure in order to pay the vet bill. Another has strong intuitions that the others learn to respect. Yet another has temporarily lost her “wits” and needs to re-discover them.

Can the kids learn enough about getting along, positive thinking, bullying, and conquering fears to succeed? Can they rise above adversity, crack the code of the treasure hunt and pull off the miracle of saving their furry friend?


The eight award-winning songs for this musical have been fully recorded and produced to provide a template of mixing options for theater groups, schools and classrooms everywhere. There are options of adding piano, drum or guitar parts, or embellishing the choral singing with the tracks recorded by super-star kid singers from Santa Barbara.  (You can order a copy here.)

Unlike recycled adaptations of Peter Pan, Music Man and Bye Bye Birdie, Elementary School Musical includes themes important to today’s kids. Packed with songs, humor, mystery and surprise, the journey takes our troupe of actors to a forest, a castle, the depths of the ocean and to the moon and back. The combined elements of a quiz show, rhythm and dance, audience participation and surprise star appearances from dads are sure to feed the hearts and souls of kids of all ages.


A number of rigorous studies have shown that emotions can either enhance or hinder kids’ abilities to learn. Perhaps a fitting analogy is that of computer memory. When children are preoccupied, they have far less “memory” or attention available for cognitive inputs. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for a child who has just been teased on the playground to pay attention in class. Little brains are often too easily “hijacked” by feelings. No surprise, it’s certain that happy kids learn better!

There are even long term implications. Attributes like self-restraint, persistence and self-awareness are better predictors of a person’s life path than standard academic measures. A recent study using data collected on 17,000 British infants followed over 50 years found that “a child’s level of mental well-being correlated strongly with future success.” Similar studies have found that kids who develop social and emotional skills are not only more likely to succeed at work but also to have longer marriages and to suffer less from depression and anxiety. Evidence even shows that they will be physically healthier.

The good news is that these skills can be taught. In an article published in 2011, I reported on a research project that we conducted in the Santa Barbara schools. We studied the effects of songs and related activities on children’s social and emotional skills. Using Happy Kids Songs, 320 first and second grade children from sixteen classrooms were involved. Each child received and listened to the songs, and in a subsequent condition, college students were trained to provide forty-minute lessons using songs and activities on nine Friday afternoons.

The lessons included themes around:

  1. Friendship and Reaching Out
  2. Respect and Caring
  3. Celebrating Differences
  4. Expressing and Managing Feelings
  5. Communication and Conflict


Significant changes occurred in the children, both from listening to the songs alone, and also by participating in the school lessons. Some of the most significant improvements for both first and second graders were with:

  • Confidence
  • Following group rules
  • Encouraging others to do their best
  • Approaching peers
  • Using effective tools with teasing and bullying
  • Understanding and using the Golden Rule
  • Resolving conflicts by talking out feelings
  • Staying on task
  • Having a positive attitude, and
  • Applying concepts learned from the songs to everyday situations

Parents, too, were enthusiastic, reporting that the project also prompted meaningful and helpful family discussions. Music can make a difference!

Similar studies demonstrate that even when time is taken away from the traditional 3Rs to build social and emotional skills, academic scores improve. Despite this mounting evidence, schools are still prone to focus on academics through testing and drill.


Brain researchers have found that music activates neural systems of reward and emotion similar to those stimulated by food, sex and drugs. Music has an almost magical capacity to touch our souls and elicit strong feelings. It “tickles” the brain in a highly pleasurable way, and releases endorphins that provide feelings of happiness and energy. A fun way to “make the medicine go down,” kids welcome tools to better handle their feelings, relationships, and practice positive thinking.

Anthropologists point out that all cultures embrace music in a variety of forms, and it’s the only thing that, worldwide, people spend more on than prescription drugs!

Research has also shown that music can strengthen learning processes, particularly with vocabulary and spatial-temporal reasoning. It also has long-lasting effects for retaining information. People remember the words and meanings of songs they haven’t heard for years. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is how most of us still recall the letters of the alphabet by singing the ABCs song in our heads!


Taking all of these factors into consideration, it can be easy to understand how this theatrical form of entertainment can provide essential opportunities for learning. There may be no more powerful method of learning than through music, and no more important lessons for children than those that focus on character and social and emotional skills.

My goal in life is to light up kids’ lives with fun and purposeful pathways to health and happiness! If you happen to share this passion, please don’t hesitate to spread the word about this musical. Feel free to contact me at [email protected]

By | 2018-06-01T16:09:32+00:00 June 1st, 2018|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments
Don MacMannis, Ph.D. and Debra Manchester MacMannis, M.S.W. are a team both at home and at the office. Married for more than thirty years and parents of two sons, they are psychotherapists who have simultaneously served as directors of the Family Therapy Institute of Santa Barbara. In addition to nationwide lectures on families, they have provided postgraduate training to hundreds of therapists.

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