Posted by Damon O'Hanlon
Group size: Minimum of 6
Materials: Bean bags, dodgeballs
Bull and the Teacup is a wonderful relay race game. It calls on students to exercise awareness and balance, and creates a strong sense of dramatic tension even amongst older students. Teams of about three are good, so you'll need at least six kids in class to play (two teams of three).
Break the kids up into teams, and have all the teams stand in lines on one side of the classroom (as you’ll see in a moment, it’s important that they stand for now and not sit yet). During Bull and the Teacup, each line will get one bean bag — ‘the teacup’. The students from each line will take turns crossing the classroom and then returning to their lines, keeping their team’s bean bag balanced on their head for the entire trip.
If the bean bag falls off at any point when they're walking, the teacup is broken. They have to pick up the bean bag right away, walk back to their line, hand it to the next person on their team, and stand in line again. If they successfully cross the classroom and return to their line without 'breaking the teacup', they let the next person in their line take the bean bag off their head, and then sit in the very back of the line. That way anybody who’s still waiting to make the trip successfully is standing, and anybody who has already made the trip with success is sitting. The first team to have everybody sitting wins.
But this isn't just a game of ‘balance’ the teacup - it’s Bull and the Teacup. That's where the instructor comes in. As the students try to cross the classroom, bean bag balanced on their head, the instructor throws dodgeballs at them. If a student gets hit with a dodgeball, in that case the teacup is also broken, and the student has to return back to their line to try again.
This is a big part of what makes Bull and the Teacup so much fun. Only half the time will the instructor actually hit the kids with a dodgeball to ‘break the teacup’. The other half of the time, the bean bag simply falls off the student's head while they are trying to evade an incoming dodgeball.
Here are a few tips for the instructor to keep in mind:
- If you run right up to the kids, it’s too easy to hit them with the dodgeballs. Keep some distance to make it clear you don’t have a wildly unfair advantage.
- Kids are allowed to slow down, speed up, or change course slightly to avoid getting hit, as long as they stay relatively within their lanes (no zig zagging all over the classroom or crossing paths with other players).
- Bounce dodgeballs off the floor; like skipping a rock over water, it slows the dodgeball down a bit, allowing the kids to try and respond to the pending disaster, or just anticipate their doom.
- Remember that, in order to be successful, a student has to get all the way across the classroom and all the way back without breaking the teacup. Make sure to hit some kids with your dodgeball at the last second (just before they return to their line). The sudden taste of defeat — just when victory was so near! — keeps the game unpredictable and often induces spontaneous laughter, even from more mature kids.
- For older kids, it’s okay to gently lob the ball towards their face. This will cause them to move their head, making it more likely that their bean bag will fall off. If it does hit them, it shouldn’t hurt if it was gently lobbed. (Otherwise you should probably look into getting some more benign, versatile dodgeballs.)
Things I like about this activity: As kids grow older, certain games like Zombie Tag and Squid Monster lose their luster. They’re too simple for older kids, and rely too much on imagination for their thrill. Not so with Bull and the Teacup. For starters, it's far more physically challenging, requiring greater awareness, dexterity, and balance. It's also got the added drive of competition. It's a relay race, and you want to beat the other team! But victory is far from certain. It may look as if someone has made it all the way to safety, when suddenly a barrage of dodgeballs comes their way. Becuase of this, the kids never know who will really win. Heck, you never even know when the game is almost over! Instructor’s can keep this game short by taking it easy and letting kids slip by, or prolong it by “smashing” teacups left and right.