Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 2, 2022
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COURTESY OF ISABEL THOMAS Thomas describes the toys that defined different eras of her life.

Growing up, I enjoyed a lot of old-school games that my elementary and middle school-age cousins — and actually, most of my friends today — have never heard of. Some of these were handclap games like Concentration 64 and Miss Mary Mack, which my classmates and I would play while we waited in the after-school car line to be picked up by our parents. Others were toys from the ’80s like Makit and Bakit suncatchers and Lite-Brite, which feature in some of my earliest memories: my parents and I sitting at the dining table punching the pegs into the Lite-Brite templates, sliding the suncatcher into the oven to melt the crystals together.

That’s not to say I didn’t soon become enveloped in the crazes of the 2000s and 2010s. Still, one thing didn’t change: For some reason, memories of my most formative years are most clearly divided by toy trend. With that, let me offer a rundown of some of the most defining ones of my childhood — and maybe yours, too!

Silly Bandz

It was 2010. Every recess underneath the swooping rock wall, a black market Silly Bandz ring would be set up, where third-through-fifth graders would sidle up to trade in the shadows. I don’t recall why Silly Bandz were banned (pun unintended) by our elementary school, although looking back, the blacktop did seem like a graveyard for snapped bands. But there was something so sweet about the forbiddenness, and we managed to keep it going for a bit until we were spotted by draconic teachers and shut down.

Novelty erasers

This was probably my favorite trend — these erasers are so adorable! Forget Pink Pearl or Hi-Polymer or pencil tops. This trend pervaded toy stores and Scholastic Book Fairs far and wide, with my friends accumulating dozens upon dozens from miniature foods to farm animals and crops. My brother got a collection of these for Christmas/his birthday, but like most people I knew, he just placed them on his bookshelf. These novelty erasers were far too cute (and impractically shaped) to use.

Rainbow loom

In our local farmers market back home, kids were selling rainbow loom bracelets as part of their parents’ artsy wares. I remember how stores would sell out of certain loom band colors and YouTube boomed with how-to videos from unbelievably skilled children and adults alike. About when this craze was really getting going was when my brother became obsessed. However, this lasted for all of two seconds before he promptly quit. I wasn’t surprised; he switches hobbies and interests with the speed of a caffeinated squirrel.

Slime

Ah yes, the prokaryote version of stress balls (no membrane-bound organelles). I don’t even want to talk about this trend. I’m still confused.

Duct tape

In middle school, we used to have this mini market economy that seventh and eighth graders would participate in as part of our history class (okay, I guess?). In order to pay for “renting” your locker, you had to earn a certain amount of fake coins by either working, maybe as a banker or for vacuuming a teacher’s room or manning the concession stands at sports games, or by selling. You could only sell on market days, sort of your service as busking as a musician or selling either food or crafts.

In 2014, we had this duct tape mogul who absolutely dominated any competition that tried to make duct tape products, from the Gucci logo on a cardboard base to the roses that cap pens to wallets. He was so successful he took commissions and even graduated to selling at the farmers market.

Fidget spinners

These became mainstream really quickly. I understand how fidget spinners can help people with anxiety, stress or trouble focusing, but these were, counterintuitively, too distracting for me, and I never got into them. But my brother and his friends sure did...

Bonus:

Mustaches

These were emblazoned everywhere circa 2013, from dresses to washi tape. Not entirely sure why, but I liked them in the moment.

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