Four Archetypes of Learning


Pondering Passover with Puppets

esterday I participated in a lively children’s activity called “Passover Wanderings”  at Temple Emanuel in Kingston, NY.   In preparation for next week’s holiday, groups of students wandered from “station to station”, each of which taught about one aspect of the traditional Passover seder.

My wonderful class of fourth-graders and I had made puppets together the previous week, to be used at the magid, or storytelling, station of the wanderings.   Our puppet-masks were simple: cut and colored poster board, with large eye holes, enabling the wearer to act out the characters: the Four Sons of Passover.

The Wise Child is open and interested in learning.

The Four Sons of Passover depict four types of children.  They are the Wise Son, the Wicked Son,  the Simple Son, and the One Who Does Not Know to Ask.  We accepted as a given that these could equally be daughters, but prefer to show four aspects of one child rather than two boys and two girls – for these are aspects of children; we have all these characteristics within us, inhabiting us at different times in our lives.

The characters may also be regarded as four archetypes of learning.  Appropriately, the four sons have also been depicted by various artists as the books of the four sons.  We decided to give our masks books, too.  The Wise Son’s book is a book of learning, presumably a Haggadah or a Chumash (printed and bound Torah) – hence the owl upon his book.  The Wicked Son has set his book on fire.  The Simple Son holds a blank book full of questions.  And the One Who Does Not Know to Ask dozes with a closed book.

The Wicked Child rejects learning and tradition.

As each group of kids came to my station, we talked about the Four Sons.  What do their characteristics symbolize?  We collected more words to refine our understanding, and wrote them on a chalkboard.  The Wise Child wants to be part of the seder, hear the story of Passover, and learn about the tradition into which he was born.  The Wicked or rebellious child wants only to discredit and rebel against tradition, and to eat.  He does not see a connection between the past and the present or future of his people or himself.   The Simple Child is open and curious, innocently naive, a potential Wise Child.  The One Who Does Not Know to Ask is simply not present; he is tuned out.

The Simple Child is innocent, naive, and full of questions.




The children took turns holding the four masks and acting out the characters.   To act out the Four Sons is to ask the questions each character would ask at the Passover seder.  What question would the Simple Son ask about the story of Exodus, the timeless tale of slavery and liberation?  What question would the Wise Son ask?  That was a tough one.  The Wise Son is encouraged to ask challenging questions, such as Why did the Eternal send ten plagues to free the Israelites from slavery, instead of simply lifting them out of Egypt?  


The Child Who Does Not Ask is disconnected and unaware that there is even anything to learn.

Next the children were challenged to put the four masks in order from the one with the most brain power to the one with the least.   The answer is shown in the photo at the top of this post.   Some children were surprised to see the Wicked Child in second place, but when they thought about it, they understood.   The difference between the Wise and the Wicked sons is not in how smart they are but what they do with their intelligence.   That brought us to one of my favorite Hebrew words, kavanah.  Kavanah means intention.  And it is intention that determines the difference between brains put to good use and brains put to not-so-good use.

It was interesting that the children listed the word “ignorant” under three of the four archetypes.  Yet they are different:  the ignorance of the rebellious child and the tuned-out child is deliberate, while that of the simple child is an innocent lack.

Finally I asked each group a question:  which child was the hardest to act out?  By far the answer was the Wise Child.  Everyone was able to act out the Wicked child (“This is stupid!” “I don’t want to be here!”), the Simple child (“huh?”  “What’s that?”), and the One Who Does Not Know to Ask (“zzzzz……”).  But the questions posed by a wise child are hard to come up with.  Can you think of one?

I enjoyed making and using the puppets of the Four Sons.  I think the wanderers enjoyed this activity, too.  Why is it good to explore a tradition or ponder archetypes of learning?  Well, that might be a question for the wise and wondering child in you . . . or the cynical, rebellious one . . . or the naive simpleton . . . depending on your kavanah. 

Happy Passover and Happy Spring!!

D Yael


To find out more about school visits and arts-in-ed programs with Durga Yael Bernhard, click here.

(click on book covers for more info)

is a 2012 winner of the Sydney Taylor Honor Award.

GREEN BIBLE STORIES is available in both hardcover and paperback.  This unique collection retells classic Torah tales from an environmental perspective, and was an “honorable mention” book at the National Green Book Festival in San Francisco.

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