holiday gifts 2022

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

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

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 12 other experts (including actual 11-year-olds) about the best gift ideas for kids that age, from books to toys to games. We also aimed to cover both the latest trends and classic crowd-pleasers as we narrowed down the picks. The 30 recommendations below are divided into four categories: tech gifts, educational gifts, creative gifts, and books.

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 teenage (and tween) girls and boys.

Best tech gifts for 11-year-olds

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.”

After hearing about it going in and out of stock for a while, you might think that kids have moved on from the Nintendo Switch. But Chris Byrne, who’s also known as the Toy Guy, is the second expert who has told us that they “are seeing continuing demand.” (In reporting our gift guide for 10-year-olds, toy blogger Keri Wilmot also told us that the early-pandemic darling Animal Crossing is still very popular.) The game itself will surely suffice for kids who already have a Switch, but for those that don’t, you could pair it with the special Animal Crossing version of the console if you really want to impress them. (The themed console does not include the game, just so we’re clear.) If Animal Crossing isn’t their thing, Nintendo has just released a new (and much harder-to-find) Pokémon edition of the console, with two new Pokémon games, Scarlet and Violet, coming out on November 18. Both games are now available for preorder and will introduce new Pokémon characters and adventures.

The third installment of this popular game series was released in September. Tween Tessa D. raved to us that “there’s so much lore in the game,” saying she “can’t wait to see what happens next in the story.”

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 in the making needs, including a grip rig, stereo microphone, LED light, and wireless remote.

Photographer June Kim says that this 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. With auto-brightening and auto-shutter speed, it’s the perfect introduction for a budding novice photographer.

Zing Go Go Bird
$40
$40

Zing’s “super fun and easy-to-use” Go Go Bird was a huge hit when it premiered at the Hong Kong toy fair in 2020, Byrne told us. It’s “a remote-controlled, easily operated flying toy at an affordable price point,” he says.

Byrne says the newest Xbox console is on practically every 11-year-old’s wish list. According to Tom Warren, who wrote about Xbox Series X for our sister site the Verge when the console first launched, “Microsoft’s next-gen Xbox comes the closest I’ve ever witnessed to re-creating the superior PC experience of playing games, thanks to SSD storage, a far more powerful CPU, 120Hz support, and impressive backward compatibility features that improve existing games.” While pricey, Warren explains why the system is 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.”

Best educational gifts for 11-year-olds

According to Byrne, “STEM without screens is a hot topic,” and this is “a sophisticated game that builds learning, pre-coding, and sequencing into the fun.” Gridopolis is a 3-D strategy game where players use the parts provided to build their own board game from scratch. 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 take their turn to build on the board, effectively changing the game at any point and keeping players on their toes.

$70

In our gift guide for tween boys, sixth-grader Matthew told us that he’d like this build-it-yourself Nintendo VR kit, which lets you play the role of a fighting robot. “Whatever you’re doing, like punching, it does in the game too,” he explains. Strategist writer Latifah Miles built the junior VR set with her son and not only found it easy to assemble, but it became one of her son’s favorite ways to use his Nintendo Switch.

Steven John, a Strategist contributor, tech writer, and father of two, says this five-in-one Lego robot kit is easy to use, thanks to the simple drag-and-drop app interface. After assembling the 847 pieces, the mini-robot can move, light up, and walk based on the programming the builder creates.

Designed for creators as young as 6 years old but even better suited to the more advanced coordination of older kids, this 3-D-pen set comes with everything your tech-savvy artist will need to get started, including 72 strands of starter filament in a variety of colors, a doodler pad, and ten stencils. “Not only does this kit help satisfy the countless tweens that may be requesting their own 3-D printer, but with the kit’s unique kid-safe 3-D pen and filament, they can create anything from jewelry to desk décor,” says Jennifer Lynch, content developer and toy-trends specialist at the Toy Association. The latest version of the pen has a slimmer design for easier handling, charges quickly, and features a standby mode for added safety.

Best creative gifts for 11-year-olds

“For this age, arts and crafts are a big deal,” according to Byrne. While slime is still popular, DIY resin kits are gaining a lot of steam, he says, adding that he’s a big fan of this Jelli Rez kit from Moose Toys. It includes everything you need to create resin accessories, from molds to necklace parts. “There are a lot of similar sets out there, but this one is the easiest and most satisfying,” Byrne promises.

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 a little cooler than a Rubik’s Cube for keeping their hands busy.

“Lego, of course, has wide appeal at this age, but the sets certainly vary by interest,” says Byrne. For a set an 11-year-old might not have yet, this display-worthy Adidas sneaker can double as décor for their bedroom.

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 (gently) suggest throwing a pair of sanity-saving noise-canceling headphones in your cart.

Best toy and game gifts for 11-year-olds

$10

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

Air Hogs Gravitor
$22
$22

A traditional drone might be too complicated for an 11-year-old to navigate and too expensive to risk trying it. This lightweight, rechargeable, kid-friendly drone hovers over your child’s hand and can do over 12 stunts and tricks.

Byrne puts this up-to-four-player board game in the “silly fun” category. Each player selects a color-coded ingredient and races to toss those ingredients onto the rotating pizza-shaped board before the timer runs out. “What really works about this is that it’s cooperative and competitive and the whole family can play” without needing to learn complicated instructions, he says.

$23

Dog Crimes is a “solo problem-solving game with different levels of complexity,” explains Byrne. It tests kids’ deductive reasoning skills as they try to figure out which dog did the deed. If your recipient isn’t really a dog person, there’s a cat-centric version, too.

According to CEO and founder of Global Toy Experts Richard Gottlieb, NERF blasters tend to be crowd-pleasers, especially when the crowd is full of 11-year-olds. This motorized version shoots out six darts at a time or ten darts in a row and comes with a total of 32 darts (ten in the clip and 22 for quick reloading).

While this hoodie isn’t technically a game or a toy, it will likely incite the same level of excitement in your tween Pokémon fan. The franchise is more popular than ever, and earlier this year, 11-year-old Delilah told us she couldn’t wait to break out her new Pikachu hoodie as she headed back to school.

Best books for 11-year-olds

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 A 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.

Graphic novels are always a hit at this age, according to Goldstein. “The Cardboard Kingdom is by one artist and has a bunch of stories written by different authors about a neighborhood of children who make costumes and other things out of cardboard,” she says. “The kids are super diverse and they all live with a variety of different life situations, but it’s very cheerful with bold illustrations and it doesn’t feel heavy or like it’s trying too hard.”

This fantasy book recommended by Goldstein tells the story of a New Jersey sixth-grader named Kiranmala whose parents are suddenly cast into another dimension. She discovers that she is a princess and embarks on a quest to rescue her parents, accompanied by two handsome Indian princes and their flying horses. “It’s a standard fantasy template, but all the characters are Indian or of Indian origin,” Goldstein explains. “The characters are inspired by Bengali folklore, and everything is pretty funny. Kiran has a sort of snarky New Jersey voice, and it has a great mixture of innovative changes to a standard fantasy book.”

“Another clever and innovative book is Dactyl Hill Squad, which blends historical fiction with sci-fi and fantasy,” says Goldstein. A group of orphans of color living in New York City during the Civil War fight to save their fellow orphans from being sold into slavery. “But in this version of New York City, dinosaurs never went extinct and they become allies in the kids’ battle against racism and oppression,” Goldstein explains. “If you ask a kid if they like historical fiction, they’re most likely going to say no, but if you ask if they like adventure and good stories and dinosaurs, they will say yes.” She adds that the book also includes notes about the actual historical events of the time, so it’s grounded in reality — except for the dinosaur part.

“Another really popular author with tweens is Sharon Draper, who writes realistic fiction,” says Goldstein. In Blended, 11-year-old Isabella feels caught between two worlds. With a Black father and white mother, she’s used to the constant microaggressions of people asking, “Who are you? What are you?” But when her parents divorce, it gets even more confusing, because she has to spend one week with her dad, who’s wealthy, and one week with her mom, who works at a diner. “It’s nice for children in similar situations to see themselves in books, but it’s also a great lesson in empathy for any reader,” Goldstein says.

Another book that deals with race is Not My Idea, a picture book for white children that Goldstein says “talks to kids directly about race, particularly about the implications of being white in a racist society.” The book not only helps children become aware of racism, it also empowers them to work toward justice and cultivates activism. “By being aware, you can help break down these systems,” she explains. The artwork deals with race in a sophisticated way, and the book is appropriate for younger kids as well as older ones, making it a great tool for family discussions, Goldstein adds.

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