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The Absolute Best Gifts for 11-Year-Olds

Make your new tween happy with a birthday gift that's fun, interesting, and, dare we say, cool.

Like the bassist in Spinal Tap, your kid has turned it up to 11. Finding age-appropriate gifts for 11-year-olds or kids of any age is tricky — while toddlers are engaged by problem-solving of almost any kind, older kids have their own well-developed interests to consider. The best toys for 11-year-olds, who are caught in that sometimes-tricky spot between little kid and adolescent, should acknowledge that they’re morphing into independent people with their own pursuits and developing social lives.

That makes finding the right gift a challenge — in part because the best birthday gift ideas will be dependent on the specific interests of the 11-year-old in question. Some cling to childhood and some blossom quite suddenly into full tweendom. Most, however, swing wildly back and forth between mature and immature behaviors — and remain more than happy to play with a good toy.

Related: Gift Ideas for 10-Year-Olds

Our favorite toys for 11-year-olds encourage the development of their critical thinking and social skills. Yes, devices are fine. It’s the way of the world. But sometimes (okay, as often as possible), it’s a good idea to leave the devices behind and get kids out in the world and doing something that involves real-world interactions with actual people. Here are the coolest, most developmentally appropriate toys and gifts that the 11-year-old in your life will love.

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The Best Toys for 11-Year-Olds

Kids can turn any sunny space into their own experimental darkroom by making sun prints of flowers, action figures... you name it. Sunlight exposes the specially treated paper, creating a perfect silhouette of any object laid on the paper. This kit comes with 15 8x12-inch sheets, which adds up to hours and hours of outdoor fun for restless kids this summer.

Introduce your tween to this classically creative game. Little has changed about Spirograph since it was first introduced in 1965... perhaps because it's perfect as is. This set includes 19 precision wheels, two rings, and one 'precision rack,' plus everything else kids need to start making beautifully elaborate designs — while also learning about the mathematic principles that make them possible.

The Swurfer is part old-fashioned wooden swing, part treetop surfer. Made from sturdy water-resistant maple, its curved balance-board design make it extra comfortable and also adaptable — the Swurfer can sway up to 12 feet high and is designed for everything from mellow swinging to practicing snowboard tricks. Weight capacity is 150 pounds.

Walkie-talkies encourage independent exploration — and communication, without the sedentary inertia of phones and tablets. These rechargeable walkie-talkies, with 22 channels and a Li-ion battery that extends talk time (up to 18 hours per full charge), are perfect for family camping trips or for neighborhood adventures. Easy to use, with clear, crisp sound over a decent range (up to 3 miles in an flat, open terrain).

Eminently graspable and beautifully multifaceted, these gemstone-shaped sidewalk chalks give 11-year-olds the tools they need for everything from hopscotch to lemonade sales. Set includes a dozen chalk pieces, made from a mix of plaster of Paris and tempera powder.

From the classic Ravensburger line of GraviTrax toys, a starter set to get the uninitiated on the right track. Modular and interactive, without using a single electron of plug-in power, gravity does all the work here, once kids and parents have designed and built their own elaborate marble runs. Lets kids explore physics, kinetics, and magnetism while racing marbles and having fun trying to engineer faster and wilder tracks. More than 100 pieces and 18 different construction elements, so there's plenty to keep enterprising kids busy.

Devices are great. Devices are fine. But an old-school high-quality art set? That's divine. Little else builds creativity like putting pens and pencils to paper. Kids can do that and much more with this set, which includes 24 colored pencils, 24 oil pastels, 24 watercolor cakes, 60 wax crayons, three mixing trays, two drawing pencils, two paintbrushes, sharpener, ruler, eraser, plus multiple drawing pads.

Kids can program this app-enabled robot ball to roll along whatever path they set for it. The possibilities are infinite: turning through a maze, pushing a toy sailboat across the bath, accelerating across a homemade bridge... This is a true STEM toy that teaches logic, coding, and robotics, first by using easy-to-learn coding blocks that build toward writing original JavaScript code.

What 11-year-old doesn't want to command an army of insects to crawl all over and conquer their opponent's hive? A boardless board game that kids can take anywhere — fit together tough, octagonal tiles emblazoned with soldier ants, grasshoppers, spiders, and beetles to capture your opponent's queen bee. This is basically bug chess, a great strategy-building game for tweens that's also indestructible. Perfect for road trips and family vacations. Kids can build up their swarm with expansion sets.

A great toy means kids never run out of ideas, or get bored. Like this toy, which lets kids build and rebuild endless robotic creations with a single kit. The Electric Motors Catalyst gives kids an introduction to electronics, but it's also ceaselessly generative: Kids can use their hands to build anything they can think up by using the motors, wires, and battery pack, without limit or instruction.

STEM toys like this one teach your kids about robotics by way of vibrant mythical fire-breathing beasts. Shopping for 11-year-old birthday gifts can be perplexing, but for a kid who likes fantasy, we've got a good one. The UBTECH JIMU Robot comes with a corresponding app that allows kids to follow directions to create a buildable, codable robot or invent their own. They use the Blockly coding platform to code this epic creature. It's the STEM version of ‘Game of Thrones.’

And now, an even cooler way to draw. This time, you click to extrude heated plastic that hardens fast, allowing kids to draw in 3D, freehand, or over stencils. It gives you an ultra-smooth and enhanced doodling experience. It's faster and more durable than its predecessors for art you can make however you want.

Yes, slime feels gross. Yes, slime is messy. Do kids love slime? Of course they do. It's not breaking news that kids love slime, but the good news is that slime can also boost imagination, creativity, and problem-solving. This NatGeo set includes eight varieties of slime and putty including pre-made magnetic putty, fluffy slime, glow-in-the-dark putty, liquid slime, color-changing putty, snotty slime, bouncing putty, plus storage tins.

Aspiring engineers can learn all about structural integrity and problem-solving when they build their own bridges, learning along the way how bridges are designed to provide massive weight support over great distances. Kids get the tools needed to build nine working models of bridges, including a beam bridge, arch bridge, truss bridge, cable-stayed bridge, and suspension bridge.

This textile-themed game combines strategic thinking with quick gameplay to create a fun experience for kids and adults alike. One to four players can play this game, so it's great for family game nights — and solo gameplay. Because games last just 30 minutes, there's minimal risk of kids getting bored, as they might in those more complex games that are designed to last hours.

The rules are simple. You squish the mini Playfoam into one of two flexible, non-stick, silicone molds, then press to pop and play, encouraging open-ended play and cooperation between friends and family members. One major goal of the foam is to create Playfoam accessories and have others guess what you made. That makes for good fun with a hands-on toy. Major plus: the PlayFoam won't ruin rugs or furniture.

Kids are natural scientists, whose primary job is to try to understand the world around them — but only a microscope lets them dive into the teeming wilderness of an invisible realm they'll never tire of exploring. This dual-scope microscope, from the makers of real scientific tools, lets kids zoom in on either prepared slides or solid objects, such as insect wings or coins, and study them at 400X magnification. The microscope is lightweight and can be used both inside in the “lab” and outside mid-adventure.

This extremely popular electronics exploration kit comes with everything kids need to learn about electricity and circuits. In terms of play time for the price, this toy is an excellent value. It's also just a really clever toy, with components labeled as they would be in a physics textbook's circuit diagrams and the ability to add even more to the more than 30 included modules.

Our absolute favorite coding robot to date, Cozmo expresses hundreds of emotions, recognizes kids, and remembers names. Kids can play all kinds of games with Cozmo. But what's really cool is that kids can use him as a spy cam or switch him into explorer mode, guiding him remotely, seeing what he sees via a smartphone or tablet. He's like a Wall-E, but in real life. He'll even greet people on command. He's great for kids 8 and up.

One of our favorite Lego sets is the Goldilocks of the toy's Star Wars line: complicated enough to be challenging but not so crazy that you'll need to take out a loan to buy it.It's the freaking Millennium Falcon. Enough Said. This 1,414 piece kit are enough for a lot of build time with enough nooks and crannies to stay interesting for a while, and is sure to bring Dad on board to build, too.

Either your kid already has a phone, or is constantly using yours to take pictures. Let them print them up fast and easy with this handy Fujifilm printer. You'll never use one of those tired drugstore printing stations again. With this photo printer, kids send their best photos from the app to SP-2 via wifi connection. They can also print Images from Instagram and Facebook accounts.

Kids use coding blocks to make music with this dope set. Before you buy this, be aware that you need the Osmo base for the set to work. But damn, it's worth it. Your kid becomes a music producer and composer, with their own virtual music studio.

Kids love baking. And if you don't mind the cleanup, get this kit and create a delicious constellation of tiny cupcakes. This baking kit includes everything a budding baker needs to make 20 irresistible mini cupcakes. We're talking spatula, pastry brush, mixing spoon, 12 silicone mini baking cups, a metal baking tray, and four recipe cards. The brand makes a slew of different kits for every taste. Baking is messy, so don't be uptight about it.

Turn a pretend spa day into a secret science project. This kit will please even a picky tween. Kids use the kit to create DIY bath and body treatments, from a refreshing facial mask to soothing mermaid shimmer gel and relaxing bubble bath bonbons. The recipes are simple and mostly call for ingredients you have around the house. A great lesson in making things from scratch and seeing how ingredients come together.

There's a lot to love about this combination logic game, marble run, and STEM toy. Marbles, STEM, and higher order thinking? What else could a toy have? The 60 challenges included in this package mean there are hours of fun and learning to be had, as kids begin with simple tasks that get progressively harder, all using simple components (towers, a target piece, a grid, and three marbles).

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