Recently, we asked our teacher audience to report to us the earliest student trends they remember. Not as students, but as teachers. What little toys were you constantly taking up? Which clothing item, shoe, or accessory could you see on every child? What words or phrases did you hear so often you almost had a meltdown?
Get ready for this roller coaster down memory lane. It’s a doozy.
1975: Mood rings
How would we know if we were mad without looking down at our hand?
1976: Holly Hobbie swap cards
Holly Hobbie, a fictional little girl clad in patchwork rag dresses and a giant bonnet, swept onto the scene in the mid- to late ’70s. Holly Hobbie dolls, ceramics, games, and other goods soon followed … and one teacher distinctly recalled the popularity of the swap cards at recess.
Late 1970s: Safety pins as earrings
Youth of the 1970s invented punk, and they have sewing accoutrements in their faces to prove it.
The ’80s popularized this term for the clean-cut, pastel-wearing country club aesthetic, but I can only hear it as A.C. Slater talking to Zack Morris from Saved by the Bell. “What’s up, Preppy?”
Source: 80s Fashion
Early 1980s: Hacky sack
If a circle of students got really noisy in the cafeteria, you knew they were on a huge hacky-sack streak.
1981: Dukes of Hazzard
Many a desk and cafeteria table in schools across the country were left off-kilter as students imitated Luke and his famous hood slide.
1981: Rubik’s Cubes
Teachers in the ’80s surely had a collection of confiscated Rubik’s Cubes in their desks.
1983: “Psyche!” at the end of every sentence
The true origins of saying “Psyche!” or “Sike!” aren’t clear, but the phrase definitely took off after Eddie Murphy’s ice cream man skit in 1983.
1985: Garbage Pail Kids trading cards
The Garbage Pail Kids trading cards were a trend no one saw coming. Like the “evil” side of the Cabbage Patch Kids, older children delighted in their mischievous and gross traits, e.g., Bad Breath Seth.
1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
These heroes in a half shell were on lunch boxes, kids’ clothes, and backpacks for YEARS. Not to mention the figurines that were constantly causing distractions.
Late 1980s: Mile-high Aqua Net bangs
“Hey! Put away that teasing comb!” said every educator at some point in the late 1980s.
Source: Design You Trust
1988: Zubaz pants
Like zebra pants but cooler. Step off the bus in these bad boys and you’ll think you own the school. Not gonna lie, kinda want a pair.
Buy it: Amazon
1989: The Simpsons
The Simpsons TV show quickly infiltrated the pop culture scene. Teachers reported a tremendous amount of Bart Simpson T-shirts as well as adopting many of Bart’s expressions at school, including, “Eat my shorts!” and “Don’t have a cow, man.”
1990: Slap bracelets
Slap bracelets for you youngsters were hard strips of vinyl that, when struck, would coil to form a bracelet. As it happens with many student trends, these were eventually banned in many schools due to extra-enthusiastic slap bracelet injuries.
Source: About the ’80s
1991: Hypercolor clothes
Hypercolor clothes contained a special pigment that changed color when warmed by touch or other forms of heat. Talk about a distraction!
Source: Mental Floss
1996: The Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, and ’NSync
Girl bands and boy bands reigned supreme in the ’90s. History project on a living celebrity? Lance Bass. Vote on a song for a pep rally? “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls. Chatting up the DJ at the Halloween dance for your favorite slow song? “All My Life” by K-Ci and JoJo. The boy and girl band craze ran DEEP.
Source: Roar on YouTube
1993: Power Rangers
Ask any elementary student their favorite color Power Ranger in 1993 and they would rattle it off without even thinking. These Mighty Morphin crime fighters were especially popular as Halloween costumes.
1993: The Macarena
Not going to lie, the opening to this song still awakens something primal in me. Unfortunately it died off when schools tried to stay relevant by playing “The Macarena” at assemblies, lunch, football games, etc., etc., etc.
Pogs were little cardboard discs originally used to seal milk for a Hawaiian dairy company. Soon, they swept the country either as collectibles or used for a game (similar to milk caps) that involved a fancy-looking, more durable pog, a.k.a. a slammer. You can see how a product that was cheap and easy to reproduce made its way onto every school’s recess scene.
Source: This Is Why I’m Broke
1995: Beanie Babies
While Beanie Babies weren’t allowed at school per se, these stuffed creatures were the object of many kids’ fascination and obsession in the mid-1990s. The TY company would frequently “retire” certain Beanie Babies, making them rare and more valuable overnight.
1996: Jitter Rings
A teacher in New Zealand mentioned that these rings, also known as Chatter Rings, were the bane of her existence in the mid-1990s. The object was to keep the gold discs spinning as long as possible while performing tricks, which would be fine if they didn’t emit a loud “chatter” every time the rings were spun. Check out a demonstration here.
1997: Tamagotchi and GigaPets
Tamagotchis were tiny digital animals that you cared for by pressing buttons for food, water, play, and other necessities. If you were a good caretaker and were responsive to their needs, they’d grow and develop more advanced characteristics. If you didn’t, they would die. And what would you do if your mom said “Absolutely not” when you asked if she would babysit your Tamagotchi while at school? Clandestinely check on your Tamagotchi every few hours from your backpack, pretending to be sharpening a pencil.
1998: JNCO jeans
These extra-wide-leg jeans are having a comeback, even though they were practically a safety hazard in school in the ’90s.
1999: Tech Decks
Fads in miniature form always eventually ended up on school desks, and these tiny finger skateboards were no exception.
1999: Pokemon cards
Though we’ve seen more than one cultural moment of Pokemon cards skyrocketing in popularity, the original trend in the late 1990s was what really put Pokemon in motion.
1999: Britney Spears
One of Britney’s first huge hits, “Oops! … I Did It Again” soon became a standard expression at school for making an error.
Source: USA Today
1999: Hampster Dance
Before you ask, yes, it’s “hampster” with a “p” (I know my audience). This song, played with accompanying dancing hamsters on a website, was collectively in teachers’ heads for an entire year, particularly if they had a computer in their classroom.
The whirring! The clacking! Beyblades are like regular spinning tops but with a healthy dose of aggression. Beyblades “battle” each other to see who can spin the longest in a plastic arena. If you haven’t lost a friend or family member to Beyblades for ages 8 through 11, consider yourself lucky.
They say that sometimes, if you’re really quiet, you can still hear the echo of schools scrambling to update their dress codes in 2006 to ban these wheeled shoes.
2007: The Cheese Touch
The “Cheese Touch” was a game popularized by the book and subsequent movie Diary of a Wimpy Kid. In the book, kids find a piece of cheese on the blacktop at recess. They declare that anyone who touches it develops the “Cheese Touch,” similar to cooties, and becomes a social pariah. Children all over the country copied the game at their own schools, leaving teachers to clean up the emotional disasters it caused (as well as melty blacktop cheese).
Source: Wimpy Kid Wiki
Sillybandz were colorful rubber bands in the shape of animals, people, and objects that were popularized as bracelets. It’s estimated that teachers lost up to 90% of their instructional time in 2010 from Sillybandz trading, redirecting (“Don’t snap her Sillybandz”), and readjusting. My arm hairs hurt just looking at this picture.
2010: Justin Bieber mania
Students came to school humming his songs. Others came to school with his haircut. EVERYONE had a strong reaction to Justin Bieber, whether his name inspired fits of screaming or dramatic eye-rolling. He was an inescapable cultural force in 2010.
2010: “YOLO” and “Swag”
YOLO, which stands for “You Only Live Once,” became the justification for pretty much any wild or kooky behavior. Around the same time, “swag” emerged as an adjective meaning “cool.” Both words evolved to be used somewhat interchangeably, with “YOLO swag” being a way to describe something very, very cool. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.
2011: Loom bands
Once the popularity of Sillybandz faded a bit, a new bracelet-making technique came onto the scene: loom bands. Using a loom, kids could weave their own bracelets and sell them on the underground student market for a profit.
2011: “Friday” by Rebecca Black
Like a bat out of hell, Rebecca Black came onto the scene in 2011 with her unbelievably catchy (and lyrically … interesting) song “Friday.” I listened to it a week ago to jog my memory and it hasn’t left since.
2012: The Mayan Calendar ending
Like many world-ending predictions before it, students (and many adults) believed that on December 12, 2012, the world would end since that was the end of the Mayan calendar. Spoiler alert: It did not.
Source: Britannica Kids
2012: Gangnam Style dance
The Gangnam Style song and accompanying dance by artist Psy went viral, sweeping schools from elementary playgrounds to basketball halftime cheers.
2013: “What Did the Fox Say?” song
This song—an exploration of what a fox might sound like—saw a spike in popularity. My students thought this was the funniest YouTube video on the face of the earth, second only to my pained expression when I would play it for them.
2014: Whip/Nae Nae
As YouTube skyrocketed in popularity, users began uploading their own videos of themselves doing popular dances. With information moving so fast, it wasn’t long before every child in America was doing the Whip or Nae Nae (or at least trying to) during the 2014 school year.
2015: The Charlie Charlie challenge
New teachers either won’t remember the Charlie Charlie challenge or participated in it as students when they were in school. Basically, the challenge was a modern revival of an older Spanish game called Juego de la Lapicera, or the Pencil Game. After creating the setup shown in the picture above, players would ask a supernatural being/demon named Charlie yes or no questions, and however the top pencil fell would dictate the answer to the question. It was such a phenomenon I distinctly remember having to write “There will be no more summoning of pencil demons in this class, Thanks, Mgmt” on the board one day.
Can we all agree that although this was a completely harmless trend, it was also one of the most annoying? Kids would “dab”—a move similar to sneezing in one’s elbow in response to everything. Learning they’d made a perfect score. Learning they’d failed a test. Being called to the office. Winning a game. Losing a game. At the end of a presentation. Being called on. It became so ubiquitous, I’m sure it became reflexive for some kids. Not sure what else to do with your arms? Dab.
2016: Floss dance
Thank you, Minecraft, for this very cute dance that knocked approximately 1 million school supplies off desks and tables.
2016: Bottle flipping
OK, remember when I said dabbing was the most annoying trend? I changed my mind. Bottle flipping takes the cake (at least dabbing was silent). Kids would fill up part of a water bottle, then flip it in the air to see if they could get it to land upright, bottle-cap side down. Despite how satisfying it is to finally accomplish this, the problem lies in the collective 9.3 billion attempts that don’t result in the desired outcome. So much plastic crunching. So many SPILLS.
2016: The Mannequin Challenge
This was a really cute, short-lived YouTube challenge in which a group of participants would pretend to be frozen mid-action. The person doing the filming would go from person to person showing how still each of them was. Check out this school-wide mannequin challenge with 1,500 students!
Source: Techi Expert
2017: Fidget spinners
Fidget spinners came onto the scene fast and furious, and it wasn’t long before most kids had an assortment of them to choose from. Check out our roundup of classroom-friendly fidget toys.
2018: “Old Town Road”
This song is still a banger. Probably always will be. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Which trends did we miss? Let us know in the comments.
Looking for more articles like this? Be sure to subscribe to our newsletters!