An Ode to Vintage School

Since I was a child, a teacher’s kid, I have loved playing school. My mom would send me to the supply room at her school to fetch things for her classroom. I would walk down the shelves looking at all of the wonderful things. They were there for teachers: chalk, tape, pencils, bulletin board border, paper, manipulatives, books, curriculum, erasers, along with odd bits and bobs that ended up there for lack of a better place. The smell was always my favorite, from floor wax to the hot laminator, to new dust-emitting boxes of chalk. It was heaven.

Along the journey of my teaching career I have collected many pieces of vintage school supplies: from paper ephemera to books to actual things I use in my classroom, there was a place for anything “old school” in my life.

Where do I find this stuff? Is the question I get most- honestly, most of my stuff comes from the trash! Things the school is going to throw away or in the give-away piles at the end of the year. The more expensive things I find in antique shops, the special items I get on E-Bay, and books are mostly found at library sales!

Here is some of my collection!

Dick & Jane

This is kind of where I started. When I was changing jobs from working at a museum to being a teacher many years ago I went to lots of library books sales. I was also very pregnant during some. Most of my Dick & Jane books came from those sales. I had the best time when I was obviously pregnant because people where so nice to me, otherwise some of these sales were incredibly cutthroat at times! I’ve also found books at the Goodwill and local bookstores. I use the nice color copiers at Kinkos/Fed-Ex to make decor from the book covers and ephemera for my classrooms.

Chalkboards, Slates, and Chalk

Many people will not understand this one, but I am obsessed with chalkboards and good chalk. I can’t explain it. I just think they are beautiful, tactile, cost-effective, lasting, and functional. Perfection. I have chalkboards at my house, in my classroom, I used little ones for answer boards in first grade, and I enjoy drawing on my antique slate with chalk pastels.

Electric School Clocks

Weirdly, this is one of the first things I bought for my first classroom. It replaced a non-functional battery-operated piece of junk meant to last about a year. I never looked back! Considering their age they do have to be taken care of- the motor must be removed and oiled if the clock loses time. Other than that they are great.


Books everywhere! This is the easiest category to find- in the trash piles, in surplus, library sales, book give-aways, etc. I use them at home and at school to give access to my students and children.

School Toys

This category is blurred with manipulatives because many can be both. I tried to keep this to toys about school, not toys specifically for school.

Colored Pencils

This one isn’t super vintage, but I love them all the same. Most are Prismacolors, also Science Research Associates (SRA) put packs of colored pencils in all their reading labs to mark progress through the color levels.


These are “toys” made specifially for school, or toys that can be used to help learners. My favorite way to get things to stick in my student’s brains is using play and toys! Also I put flashcards here too. They aren’t utilized as much as they could be anymore.

School Record Players and Records (plus filmstrips!)

Over the years I have rescued so many record players from the trash, re-habbed them and given them to fellow teachers. There is just something about a Califone record player that gets my heart. With a little cleaning and oiling they last and last…

Weston Woods is my favorite record company. A division of scholastic they produced media to support children’s books. They made records, cassette tapes, filmstrips, and movies. I also collect and use those!

School Furniture

I don’t have a ton of school furniture but I do have a desk my mom got me at a surplus sale and a lovely set of Heywood-Wakefield Hey-Woodite school chairs my mom got for me at a junk furniture shop. They are our kitchen chairs.

SRA Labs & Kits

Scienc Research Associates made SRA reading and math labs starting in the late 60’s. I’ve found these at library sales. The ones in my classroom were found in surplus piles. Many people hate these, but I love them. They help me differentiate instruction for my students and to challenge them too. The questions often have the student choose the best answer which is excellent for test-taking.


Collecting stamps not only brings joy to me, but to my students as well. My first-graders got stamps on their papers when they were all correct, my art students get a stamp on their wrist when they have made good choices in class. So many go along with quality children’s literature and this is the biggest reason I started collecting and using them.

Old Photos

The museum I worked at before I became a teacher had a nice archive of old photos. I scanned them all and we were able to use them for so many things. Here are some of the school ones. (I don’t have the actual photos.)

Well, that’s it! I hope you have a great school year if you are involved with education. If not, I hope you remembered some good things about your time in school.

With Vintage School love to you from Kansas Street,


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