gifts they might actually want

The Best Gifts for 11-Year-Olds, According to Experts

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

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At age 11, kids are typically entering sixth grade, which a lot of times means starting at a new middle school. “Their social scene is changing and they’re starting to think more about their social identity and who they are as a more mature person,” explains Lisa Goldstein, a librarian with the Brooklyn Public Library. Alyson Cohen, a Manhattan-based social worker and psychotherapist specializing in adolescents, young adults, and millennials, adds that such environmental changes, coupled with the physical changes kids start to experience at this age, can make 11-year-olds quite fickle. “Puberty is beginning, so they’re facing physiological issues that are hormonal that can also affect their emotional states,” she says. It’s also the age when kids start to become more independent, according to Cohen. “They’re not as excited to spend time at home with family and are really looking to blossom out into the world.”

If you’re thinking that this confluence of changes can make finding a gift for an 11-year-old tricky, you’re not wrong. To help, we asked Cohen, Goldstein, and more than a dozen other experts, parents, and actual 11-year-olds about the best gift ideas for kids that age, from books to toys to tech. We also aimed to cover both the latest trends and classic crowd-pleasers and organized them by price — so if you already have a budget in mind, you can use the table of contents to jump ahead, or read all the way through to get the full picture of what 11-year-olds are into these days.

And if you’ve got kids of different ages to shop for, don’t miss our other age-specific gift guides, including for 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, 9-year-olds, and 10-year-olds. We’ve also got gift guides for teen (and tween) girls and boys, and the meticulously curated Strategist Toy Store, filled with all our greatest hits.

$25 and under

Kids who fall on the older end of the tween spectrum — like 11-year-olds —tend to be more influenced by social media and trends, says Kristin Morency Goldman, senior adviser of strategic communications at the Toy Association. Kanoodle falls into the category of “TikTok made me buy it” products that actually live up to the hype. To play, you shake one of the pieces in the case and then try to fit the remaining pieces onto the play space without leaving any gaps. Both fun and a bit of a brain teaser, it’s a strategy and problem-solving game with a healthy dose of (hidden) math.

Of all the toys we’ve written about this year, Squishmallows seem to appeal to the widest age range, from toddlers all the way to tweens. “It’s all about the Squishmallows right now,” says New York senior visuals director Stevie Remsberg, who is a mom to an 11-year-old. Her daughter recently received this spotted pig in a flower crown for her birthday, and gifted an antelope Squishmallow with golden horns to a friend.

In the most recent update of our gift guide for 10-year-olds, we featured a box set of the first three Warriors books — it’s a series about warring wild cat clans. But the megapopularity of the books also bleeds into the 11-year-old set too. Remsberg says her daughter is obsessed with the series and creates her own cat clans as fan fiction in her free time. To encourage her creativity, Remsberg buys these clear sheet art portfolios so she can organize her colored-pencil drawings and writing in one place. Warriors fan or not, the portfolios would make a great gift for any budding artist or writer.

But if they are a fan of the series, this set of 52 stickers would make a fantastic present to trade or stick onto water bottles, binders, and other school supplies.

Designed by Laurence Gartel, the Shashibo is a magnetic shape-shifting cube that can transform into over 70 different shapes. “It gives kids the ability to create beautiful, high-end-looking designs,” explains the Toy Association’s Adrienne Appell, making it a great idea for fidgety 11-year-olds who may want something more unique than a Rubik’s Cube for keeping their hands busy.

Revisiting the ’90s has been particularly popular among tweens, with hit toys like Furbies, Beanie Babies, and Tamagotchi all enjoying a resurgence. This nostalgic gem has also made a comeback, according to People of Play founder and CEO Mary Couzin, with the updated version featuring improvements like a larger speaker, clearer graphics, and a longer battery life.

This fast-paced, quick-decision-making game is a favorite of Strategist writer Latifah Miles and her 11-year-old son. The rules are easy to understand and the gameplay is quick enough that you can play a few rounds at a time.

$15

Dog Crimes is a “solo problem-solving game with different levels of complexity,” explains Chris Byrne, a.k.a. the Toy Guy. It tests kids’ deductive reasoning skills as they try to figure out which cat got up to no good.

Many of the experts we’ve talked to have confirmed that today’s tweens are increasingly obsessed with collectible toys, and this Mini Verse surprise ball combines that trend with a craft. Each ball comes with UV-sensitive resin and all the pieces you need to make a doll-house-size replica of a tasty treat, like a stack of waffles with syrup, a tiny blueberry pie, or a glass of boba tea and ice. You open the ball to reveal one of more than 50 possible drinks and desserts, and once the mini-food is assembled, you let it sit in daylight for a few minutes to set the design in place.

Cohen says that parents of kids at this age may be interested in buying them nonfiction books that deal specifically with the coming-of-age years. Of the many books on the topic, she recommends The Girls’ Guide to Growing Up and The Boy’s Guide to Growing Up. “It might be an uncomfortable thing to receive in front of a lot of people, but privately, it might be something that a kid might want to read about just in case they haven’t learned these things fully in school, or didn’t ask all the questions,” she says.

Answering kids’ favorite question of why, this cookbook explains the science behind each recipe. From breakfast and lunch to dinner, snacks, and sweets, there are over 70 recipes for your wannabe chef to try.

$50 and under

While the popularity of oversize Stanley tumblers is well documented, rising seventh-grader Kennedy Rae Thompson says this smaller one is a “little more fun-size” and “easy to fit in a backpack.” The tumbler comes in several colors and has a rotating cover with three positions, including one designed to help prevent spills (though, like its larger cousins, it isn’t completely spillproof).

Kelly Harris Smith, mom of a 9- and 11-year-old and founder of Boston-based art center Minni, told us that these days her kids play in one of two different modes: “They will either sit for hours and build sets to create stop-motion videos with LEGO or stuffed animals, or absolutely cannot sit still.” That interest in stop-motion videos is shared by Remsberg’s daughter, who uses this overhead mount phone stand and StikBot figures instead of LEGOs for her creations.

Aya Spence told us she likes to use these LED headphones while making YouTube videos or gaming online with her friends. “They have noise cancellation, a great microphone, and the super-fun LED lights make them extra cool.”

Kennedy, who notes “skin care is so popular for me and my friends,” says that she’d love a tabletop fridge to keep her products cool.

According to Byrne, “STEM without screens is a hot topic,” and Gridopolis is a sophisticated 3-D strategy game “that builds learning, pre-coding, and sequencing into the fun.” Players use the parts provided to build their own board game from scratch, and play follows a blend of rules from familiar games like checkers, chess, and tic-tac-toe. You eliminate other players by jumping over them, but each player can also use their turn to build on the board, effectively changing the game at any point and keeping players on their toes.

Slime is still a favorite plaything among tweens, and 11-year-old Juliette Amodio, who likes to watch slime videos in her spare time, says she would love to receive a DIY slime kit, like this one from Elmer’s, so that she can learn to make icy slime, crunchy slime, and cloud slime. The kit contains everything you need to make a variety of slimes, with different colored glues and “magical” activators that make it extra simple to use.

While this hoodie isn’t technically a game or a toy, by the time kids hit tween-dom, their interest in personal style is likely to rise. If the 11-year-old in your life is a Pokémon fan, this hoodie will be right up their alley. The franchise is more popular than ever, and last year, now-12-year-old Delilah told us she couldn’t wait to break out her new Pikachu hoodie as she headed back to school.

Soon-to-be 11-year-old Margot is an aspiring artist with a specialty in drawing people, and she has her eye on this set of Ohuhu markers. After watching YouTubers create with them, Margot says she was instantly drawn in by how they glided effortlessly across the paper, noting that they are “way better than watercolors.” The dual tip would allow her to draw fine details or cover large swaths of space as well as work on her budding calligraphy skills. Also suggested by comic illustrator and Spunky Little Arts Co. teacher Cullen Gardepe, the markers “last a decent amount of time” and “they’re fun to use.” The set comes with 80 colors, plus a blender, and Margot says the alcohol-based formula makes for a higher-quality marker and allows the ink to dry quickly to prevent smudging.

For 11-year-olds who are ready to commute to school or around their neighborhood on their own, Couzin suggests this compact kick scooter that folds down small enough to fit into a standard backpack or slide into a locker while they are in class. (It’s about 16-by-6-by-4 inches when folded.) The scooter has a weight capacity of 220 pounds and an adjustable-height handlebar, which means it may even last into adulthood.

$100 and under

If they already have a Nintendo Switch, the newest Zelda game, Tears of the Kingdom, is an excellent gift. According to Polygon, the “sprawling” game “changes the conversation” by giving players more freedom than ever before. It should especially appeal to older kids who like to explore fantasy worlds. It also matches this year’s special-edition Zelda-themed Nintendo Switch console.

Photographer June Kim says this Fujifilm Instax camera is unbelievably easy to use. “You can just pop in the film and there’s no way to mess it up — unless you can somehow open the camera while it’s taking a photo,” she explains. That’s probably why it’s been recommended to us over and over — including in our gift guide for 10-year-olds — by a broad range of tweens, teens, and even college students. With auto-brightening and auto-shutter speed, it’s the perfect introduction for a budding photographer. Plus, the mini-photos are perfect for trading with friends or to hang up as room décor.

“More high-end VR headsets might be on a tween’s wish list, but that doesn’t mean they are age appropriate,” Lynch tells us. This educational option still scratches the VR itch, but in a kid-friendly way, as tweens “do science experiments right alongside Bill Nye.”

Eleven-year-old Madeleine Valencia told us she spends a lot of time watching YouTube and TikTok, which has inspired her to make more videos of her own. This kit from Movo, she says, would be a “better setup for recording” because it turns a smartphone into a “mobile studio.” The kit has everything an aspiring YouTube star needs, including a grip rig, stereo microphone, LED light, and wireless remote.

James Zahn, senior editor at the Toy Insider, told us that the ongoing classic-toy revival also includes Lite. This wall-mountable edition allows kids to make backlit LED Pop Art that can be displayed in their rooms. The set comes with three pictures to choose from and the 16-by-16-inch size will make it stand out in their space.

$100 and up

After hearing about the Nintendo Switch going in and out of stock for a while during the height of the pandemic, you may think kids have moved on. But Byrne is the second expert who has told us they “are seeing continuing demand.” The original Nintendo Switch is a top choice because it pairs convenient portability with the option for traditional TV play, but the Nintendo Switch Lite, a cheaper option, is also great for kids who aren’t likely to hook up their system to their television and are usually playing on the go. And if you want to bundle the console with a game, legacy franchises like Super Mario Bros., Sonic, and Zelda are among the most popular game choices.

Eleven is an age when many kids get the itch to redo their bedroom with a more mature style in mind. Like many tweens, Harris Smith’s 11-year-old is still very much into playing with LEGOs, and these LEGO shelves make the hobby feel more grown-up. They can serve as book racks, desk organizers, or even display shelves for finished builds. While the dark and light oak racks cost over $100 each, LEGO also makes a plastic version that comes in a variety of bright colors and costs much less.

Tom Warren, who wrote about Xbox Series X for the Verge when the console first launched, says the Series X comes the closest of any game system to re-creating the superior PC experience of playing video games. While pricey, Warren explains why it’s worth every penny. “This is all inside a $499 box that’s quieter and far easier to use and maintain than the $3,000 gaming PC I built.”

$179

Even if your 11-year-old doesn’t have experience with coding, this beginner-friendly robot ball makes the process fun and interesting. The app-enabled ball uses a drag-and-drop interface as well as premade codes for newcomers. To get started, you simply make a profile on the app and experiment with programming the ball to turn, spin, and roll in all different directions and even display a message on the mini LED screen. There is also a social community of Sphero enthusiasts within the app where other users share their programs, struggles, and successes. Miles’s son loves STEM-based toys and has been playing and learning with the Sphero Bolt for three years. Every time he breaks it out, he’s able to one-up his last program.

If you’re shopping for someone who’s more musically inclined, 11-year-old Valencia — who started a band with her sister and friend that covers ’80s and ’90s female artists — told us she’s got her eye on this drum set because it comes in fun colors like emerald, desert dune, redwood, and aquamarine, “which happens to be my favorite.” If you do spring for the drum set, we suggest getting some quality ear protection for your young musician as well as a pair of sanity-saving noise-canceling headphones for you.

Additional reporting by Latifah Miles, Lauren Ro, and Dominique Pariso

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The Best Gifts for 11-Year-Olds, According to Experts