If you were lucky enough to grow up in the ’80s and ’90s, you know that the school days of yesteryear were a lot different for kids compared with today. No cell phones. No internet. But there were definitely perks like scratch-and-sniff stickers, Trapper Keepers, floppy disks, and Polaroid cameras! With shows like Glow and Stranger Things becoming massive hits among all age groups, it’s no shock that these products are in the spotlight again too. Check out our list of retro school supplies that will take you back in time to the easy-breezy school days of the ’80s and ’90s.
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1. Scratch-and-Sniff Stickers
When teachers handed graded papers back to the students, they didn’t get excited over the A scrawled at the top. They anxiously checked for whether they got a blueberry-pie, buttery popcorn or pickle scented sticker affixed to the top! Then you scratched and sniffed until the image wore off the sticker. What was your favorite scent?
2. Puffy Stickers
If you weren’t scratching and smelling your stickers, you were trading these awesome 3-D puffy stickers or using them to make a scene on paper. If nothing else, they made it impossible to have an easy stack of pages.
3. Triangular Rubber Pencil Grip
Countless kids learned to grip a pencil correctly with these rubbery, yet uncomfy grips. Pencil grips lived on every pencil in kindergarten and first-grade until someone created a smooth, round version that was much more finger-friendly.
4. Cardboard Pencil Boxes
Durable? Not so much, but we still loved these cardboard pencil boxes and loaded them up with all of our treasures!
5. Trapper Keeper and Folders
Trapper Keepers really deserve the top spot on the retro school supplies list. They were so much more than just a binder. They sealed shut to protect your papers from the wilds of school life. Opening them always produced an incredibly satisfying and distinct Velcro riiiip. And don’t forget the three-holed folders that were equally bright and kept things organized.
6. Rubber Cement
Fondly remembered not for its use as glue, but for its likeness to snot when rolled into a ball, rubber cement was a must-have in art class and beyond. Boasting no-wrinkle technology, brushing on glue made art all the more meditative back in the olden days.
7. Floppy Disks
Ask a little one what this is and expect confusion. These floppy disks hardened and shrunk as time went on. They were eventually replaced by Zip drives, rewritable CDs and flash drives, but yes … you can still buy them.
8. Erasable Pens
Do you remember the first time you tried a magical, erasable pen? Many thought these mistake-friendly pens would push pencils into extinction, but sadly both the ink and eraser were terrible. Today’s pens are much more functional.
9. Metal Compass
With enough practice, compasses helped us create perfect circles of every size. They also poked holes in paper, left scratches on desks, and probably caused more than a few serious injuries.
10. Metal Safety Scissors
We snipped away until they got rusty or dull—no pretty, colored, plastic handle required. Who cares if they didn’t cut in straight lines?!
Back then we didn’t have computers and printers, we had a typewriter. And with it came the requisite wite-out for mistakes. Not fun having to realign your page so the text came out even!
12. Lisa Frank
Lisa Frank anything was pretty a staple! From stickers to folders to erasers to notebooks, everyone had the signature unicorns and neon colors.
13. Multicolor Retractable Pen
When these first came out, I think every child was amazed and had to incorporate every color into their assignments. It started out with four colors and went upwards from there.
14. Team Pencils
Back in the day, schools had vending machines for pencils. Not only that, but the kids would immediately turn around and break them against each other in a snap game! Back to the vending machine and *fingers crossed* you got the NFL team or design that would get you your next win.
15. Push Pencils
The precursor to the mechanical pencil, these stackable ones carried a certain amount of lead cartridges for refills!
16. Smelly Markers
Pop open the cap on a Mr. Sketch marker and prepare to be transported back to your carefree elementary school days. Their delightfully synthetic smells wafted beyond your desk, making for a fruit-scented classroom. Green apple, lemon, cherry, grape blueberry—what was your fave Mr. Sketch scent?
17. Garbage Pail Kids
Not really a school supply, but definitely a school staple. Kids everywhere were trading these hideous cards based on the much cuter Cabbage Patch kid dolls!
18. Lunch Box with Matching Thermos
Not quite the soft-sided lunch bags and boxes of today. These tin ones were dented on day one. But the matching thermoses kept our SpagettiOs warm!
19. Overhead Projector
These bulky projectors, along with transparency sheets that wiped clean with a damp cloth or the teacher’s spit-covered finger, were a classroom staple.
20. Manual Pencil Sharpener
Occasionally still found in the classroom today, students using these didn’t just sharpen their pencils to a perfect point, they also annoyed the teacher.
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And if you’re looking for retro playgrounds, here’s a throwback for you.
I loved smelling dittos fresh of the ditto machine!