More than two decades ago, the only screened device that caught children’s attention like a smartphone was a Gameboy – or Game Gear if you sided with SEGA. But even then, time spent on handheld video games did not come close to matching the hours kids spend on social networking and other apps today. So, what were they doing with their free time if memes, viral clips, or the latest TikTok craze didn’t hypnotize them?
Well, we had landlines, movie stores, and walkie-talkies. We used our legs and feet to get to wherever we wanted to be and spent 90% of our time outside. We had fun, made friends, and experienced the world without the internet.
I loved every moment of being a 90s kid, and today, we’re here to remind you of 25 Nostalgic ’90s Kid Activities That Are Now Rare.
Here are 25 Nostalgic 90s Kid Activities That Are Now Rare.
Making Cootie Catchers
In the 90s, we had fortune tellers on the school bus. Their hands moved in familiar patterns: they folded a piece of paper in half, then again, tucked the corners toward the center, and creased them. And as they worked, a small magical cube-like tool appeared. We’d choose numbers and colors – it moved, opened, closed – and revealed our futures.
Ok, maybe it wasn’t quite that epic, but if you were hanging out with a group of friends, you definitely made a paper fortune teller or cootie catcher. Our cootie catchers predicted future spouses, where we would live, what we would become, how many children we would have, and the cars we would drive. And in that moment, we knew it would all come true.
Spending A Whole Day Outside Without Adult Supervision
In the good old days, we would leave the house first thing in the morning, and we would not come back until the sun went down. And the best part? (Or the worst part if you think about it with a 2020+ mindset) Our parents usually had no idea where we were.
We spent our days exploring and only decided to go home when a) It got dark. Or b) we got hungry. And our hide-and-seek games were the stuff of legends! I’m talking “whole neighborhood big.” If we felt particularly sneaky, we’d tell a kid to go hide, and never look for them. As a child, having that tiny bit of freedom was truly priceless.
Recording Songs Straight From The Radio And Making Mix Tapes
There’s nothing better than discovering your favorite summer jam, but in the 90s, we had to sit around with our buddies and wait for it to come on the radio so we could record it on a tape. And let me tell you, getting the timing right between hitting record and pressing stop was a form of art.
Not only that, but you never knew when it would suddenly start playing – unless you had a “Top of the Charts” type radio program you could tune into. So we lived in a constant state of readiness, tape recorder on standby, just in case that hit song came on and we were in the right place at the right time.
Going To The Library
Now, I know many of you will immediately jump into the comment section when you hear this (and don’t let me stop you) – yes, we know libraries still exist, are still relevant and being used. But in the 90s, we USED them. If you didn’t have money for new books (no E-readers back then, folks), you would go to the library, sometimes more than once per week.
Some of us got our first taste of horror when we discovered Bram Stoker’s Dracula in the forbidden adult section and would often return to absorb the words of Stephen King and John Saul. We would also explore our school libraries and their musty books for our projects. Today, you can find absolutely everything online!
Going To The Theater To Watch Titanic Over And Over Again
Yes, some of us actually did that! Upon the film’s release in 1997, Titanic (made by the legendary James Cameron) was the most expensive film ever made. It cost a whopping $200 million. In fact, inflation made the film more expensive than the actual Titanic ($200 million vs $150 million).
The movie became a worldwide phenomenon, and it’s impossible to imagine anybody else as Rose and Jack. Still, things could have gone quite differently if Matthew McConaughey and Gwyneth Paltrow got the roles instead. They were the original choices for the parts, but a relatively unknown Kate Winslet apparently sent Cameron a bouquet of roses with the words “Roses from your Rose,” which landed her the audition and the part.
Looking For Everyone’s Bikes (And Rocking Handlebar Streamers)
We can all remember going around the neighborhood in search of our friends. There was no text messaging – you simply had to look for the house with the most bikes in front of it, and bingo! You found the crew.
And your bike wasn’t kitted out unless you were rocking handlebar streamers – in bright and reflective colors. It was pretty much the only way to go, and don’t get me started on spoke beads! If you sported those, you were probably the coolest person in the group.
Keeping Our Tamagotchi’s Alive
You had to know you would come across Tamagotchi’s on this list. They were one of the ultimate toys of the 90’s. Everyone wanted one!
We didn’t have the fancy robot toys that kids nowadays have. We spent our summer days with no homework to worry about, feverishly attempting to keep our Tamagotchis alive. And it was a mission! The palm-sized, egg-like toys, with their terrible black and white pixelated screens, were a self-contained cosmos full of both happy and sad moments. We all quickly learned how to hack our games, extending the lives of our virtual pets by removing their batteries or triggering a debugging signal with pencil graphite.
Watching The Biggest BlockBuster Movies Over Independence Day Weekends
During the 1990s, it felt like a big blockbuster movie was released every 4th of July weekend. The tradition of releasing major film pictures around Independence Day weekend began in 1985 with Back to the Future, but it really took off with Terminator 2 in 1991. The list of July 4th movies also included A League of Their Own (92), Independence Day (96), and Armageddon (98).
This tendency has waned significantly, probably owing to the poor performance of many July 4th films and a shift in viewing habits due to the pandemic. However, these movies were EVERYWHERE in the 1990s thanks to mass marketing, from billboards and TV advertising to fast-food tie-ins. I recall one brilliant marketing strategy for Independence Day. There were random floppy disks (remember those?) that you could buy at toy stores that allowed you to play parts of a computer game, but you needed all of them if you wanted to finish the game.
Buying Teen Magazines For Their Freebies And Spending Hours Doing Their Quizzes
It could be because we didn’t have as many electronics, but magazines used to be a big thing. We would browse magazine stands, looking for the best freebies, while our mums paid for the weekly groceries. It was one of the highlights of our week.
And the best part about these old teenage magazines? They had quizzes. Basically, the old-school versions of Buzzfeed quizzes. Every good teenage magazine had a flow chart that told you something about yourself, all of which felt life-changing at the time. And then we would do the quizzes for your friends too!
Writing Letters & Pen Pals
I don’t know if schools all over the world had Pen Pal programs, but many of us enrolled in such programs and found Pen Pals in other parts of the world. This led to copious amounts of letter writing. And buying postage stamps. And going to the post office. These are all things that kids today will never experience.
Pen Pals often lasted for years and years, and there have been instances of old Pen Pals celebrating their birthdays together multiple decades later. Oh boy, and if you dared to call these friends long distance, you knew you had to talk quickly with how expensive it was!
Using Disposable Cameras
Before we all had high-resolution professional-grade cameras in our hip pockets that could hold hundreds of photographs; we could only take about 25 photos per roll of film. That was if you could afford a proper camera.
Most of us had to settle for disposable cameras, and they eventually became quite popular among the kid/teen population in the 1990s because they were affordable and only took a few pictures before you could have your Mom drop you off at the local drug store to get them developed. Plus, they were reasonably priced, so we could easily buy them with our allowance. Today, however, disposables cater to a more experimental and niche audience.
Waiting Days To Get Our Pictures Back
While we’re on the subject of our disposables – I must say I miss having so many actual pictures in the house. Today, they’re all safely tucked away on external hard drives. I don’t miss having to wait for those pictures, though.
In the 90s, if you saved up your allowance to buy a disposable camera, you could have a photo shoot with your friends and deliver said camera to the drug store. Then, you had to wait a couple of days before you could go to pick them up. It felt like it took forever! And it was always a surprise to see how they came out – that is if they did. Images were often blurry and terrible, and our eyes were closed on half of them! Imagine being unable to look at and delete bad pictures before immediately taking a new photo. Today, that is unheard of.
Spending An Entire Day At The Mall
There’s a reason a movie called “Mallrats” came out in 1995. We loved going to the mall!
Our parents used to drop us off when the mall opened and would only come to pick us back up when it got dark, and we had to go to bed. The mall was air-conditioned; you could spend your allowance on a few items and gossip with (and sometimes about) your friends. If a tween did that now, people might think they were abandoned. We also had enough money to spend some of that time – usually a few hours – at the arcade – it didn’t cost more than $5. Today that will get you approximately 10 minutes of entertainment if you’re lucky.
Playing Goldeneye 64
This was, without a doubt, the most iconic video game of the 1990s. Goldeneye 64 changed how we played first-person shooter games by breaking away from the fixed-rail concept and, in the process, buried Doom.
Development began in 1995, and when the game was published in August 1997 on the Nintendo 64 system, no one expected it to be such a hit. It was the first game to make use of all four controller plugs and is regarded as the forefather of multi-screen death matches (which was actually added at the last minute). The game is widely regarded as the single most influential first-person shooter in gaming history. It was a blast.
Going To The Drive-In Movie Theater
If you lived in a small town in the 90s, the only way you got to see a (relatively) new blockbuster was at the drive-in movie theater.
We would get all dressed up, pack the snacks, pull into our spot, and… hardly be able to hear anything while trying our best to see the screen from the back seat. Especially since our parents would be enjoying the movie from the front without a care in the world about our viewing pleasure. Luckily, by the second time, you knew you had to pack a blanket and create your own happiness, as nobody else would do it for you.
Come to think of it; maybe my parents wanted me to get out of the car all along…
Building Our JNCO Collection
I know; how do jeans make it to this list? Before we go on, you must realize these jeans defined a generation – and we built collections from them. You didn’t just go and buy the first one you saw. Great thought and wardrobe planning had to go into each purchase. And did I mention they came out in every imaginable color?
Los Angeles-based Haim Milo Revah and Jacques Yaakov, two brothers, founded JNCO (Judge None Choose One) in 1985. The brothers wanted to break the mold and were greatly inspired by the baggy pants of metropolitan Californian Latinos, so they used $200,000 of their life savings to do so. Looking back, it’s hard to believe any of us actually wore these, but it all boiled down to a rebellious generation who thought that Levis, popularized by the boomers, was old and uncool. The most popular leg width was 23″, but JNCO also made one that was 50″ wide.
Learning A Phone Number By Heart
Back in the day, when you met a new friend at the pool or park and asked them for their phone number, you actually had to remember it. And depending on where you lived, those numbers could be ten digits long. In fact, numbers went from 7 to 10 digits starting in 1994.
We had several tricks to remember the numbers. We would repeat them in rhymes or patterns, look for ways to make sums with the even or uneven numbers or break them into smaller groups – 3s or 4s to remember them more easily. Since you couldn’t always write them down, organization was key.
Waiting For Commercial Breaks To Get Up From The Couch
Today, it’s easy to pause your favorite show if you want to eat, drink, visit the bathroom, or do whatever. Back then, we had to wait for commercial breaks and run like hell to get everything done before the program started again. On the plus side, if you were fast, you could make a bowl of popcorn and make it back in time, just as the ads were over.
And if you missed your show and didn’t plan ahead to record on VHS, that was just too bad. It was lost to time and your friends’ recollections of what happened during the episode. And we had epic fights when a sibling taped over our favorite shows – one of the biggest drawbacks of the good old VHS systems.
Owning, Playing, and Loving The Very First Playstation
Yes, people, we were the first. And those first Playstations changed our worlds! The Sony Playstation, released in Japan in 1994 and then in North America in 1995, was actually planned to be developed in collaboration with Nintendo. However, around 1991, Nintendo broke away from Sony and partnered with Philips.
The PlayStation was considered a high-risk endeavor because it was the first genuine attempt at 3D gaming. Surprisingly, the disks’ black color was chosen solely for aesthetic purposes. Crash Bandicoot was initially intended to be a wombat. In addition, the PS1 had two failed mascots. The first was Polygon Man, a head composed of shapes to display the outlines of the 3D effects, and the second was Toro, an obscure white cat character that stayed in Japan.
Using Bebo, Piczo, and MySpace
In the days of yonder, social networking was, well, social. Before the days of uploading videos on Facebook, posting selfies on Instagram, and surfing Twitter, we’d spend hours on Piczo making a webpage about ourselves, sending love to friends on Bebo, and making MySpace pages, all while chatting with our friends on MSN Messnger… despite having just said goodbye to them moments ago.
We didn’t have all the tools kids have today, but we made the most of what we had. In fact, some of those MySpace pages would still rock today! You should go have a look.
Reading Big Brother Magazine
The first issue came out in 1992 with a warning label and a cartoon of a teen pointing a gun at his nose. And that tells you almost everything you need to know about this mag. During the second issue, Jackass creator Jeff Tremaine decided to join the outrageous Steve Rocco-led ride, which in essence, became a middle finger to the corporate-run skater magazines of the time. It was rude, crude, obnoxious, and disgusting. It was everything a skater kid in the 1990s wanted.
Big Brother printed EVERYTHING. And we mean it when we say – EVERYTHING. The editorial team often pulled off crazy pranks like packaging issues in cereal boxes and it was the first magazine to add VHS cassettes and stickers. Big Brother was the ultimate forerunner of DIY media before the internet.
All The Tricks We Used To Keep Our CD’s Playing
When CDs came along, we instantly realized they were way cooler than tapes, but they were terribly finicky. If you didn’t put a CD back in its cover immediately after taking it out of your CD player, scratches would literally jump onto it. I kid you not! Or maybe I’m overexaggerating a bit.
To get our scratched and non-scratched CD’s playing without skipping, we devised several tricks and shared them with one another. Blowing hard into your CD player and shirt-rubbing your CDs were all socially accepted ways to make your CDs play without skipping. My absolute favorite, though, and one I use to this day, consists of gently rubbing toothpaste into your CD’s grooves, leaving it to harden, and then gently washing the toothpaste off afterward. It works like a charm.
Using Maps And Living Through Terrible Roadtrips
If your parents decided to do a family road trip, they did not have navigation to assist them. They depended on paper maps, frequently leading to getting lost or taking unexpected detours. And somehow, those detours often became our best vacation memories. But stop right there; I know what you’re thinking: sure, everyone has to take a road trip at some point in their lives. But imagine everything you despise about road trips, and then remember that we did it with no screens at all. And a lot of our parents smoked! It was not fun to spend hours in a car inhaling secondhand smoke!
Not only did we not have sophisticated mobile game alternatives like the PSP or 3DS, but there was no way to play movies of any kind in vehicles for a long time. Remember, MP3 players were still far off, so your best bet was a stack of tapes and your parents’ Walkman. Trust me on this one: every ’90s kid has a couple of road trip horror stories to tell you.
Following Every Second of Princess Diana’s Death And Funeral
Before millions of people tuned in to watch William and Harry’s royal weddings, 90s kids watched in horror as the world learned that Princess Diana passed away. Princess Diana was the most famous woman in the world and captured the hearts of millions.
So it was only inevitable that Princess Diana’s death would dominate headlines when her life tragically ended in a vehicle accident in Paris on August 31, 1997. Her burial in London a week later, on September 6, 1997, was one of the most-watched television events in history. Thousands of people filled the streets to pay their respects, and millions of flowers were strewn at her home, Kensington Palace, to say thank you and goodbye. I can still remember exactly what I was doing the day she died and where I sat down to watch all the events that followed. Every 90s kid does.
Using The Internet For The Very First Time
We were the first generation to use the internet. Although the World Wide Web was technically invented in 1989, it really took off in the ’90s. In fact, the number of websites worldwide went from a mere 130 in 1991 to more than 100,000 by 1996.
And yes, I know kids today have the internet, but we were the first generation to use it. Sure, we had to use dial-up (a nightmare in itself), and it took forever for even the most basic websites to load, but the internet was amazing. That was when we had time to get on it. If we could, we had to wait until someone finished their phone call. In addition, if you have ever sneaked downstairs to sign on late at night so you could sleep in the next day, you would understand and remember the intense fear of waiting to see if that unearthly noise woke your parents up. But it expanded our horizons and opened up our worlds to the point where we can’t imagine living without it today.