Natalie is not in a hurry to grow up.
It's one of my favorite things about my fresh 11-year-old, she of the sweet spirit and quick smile. She isn't lured by the pop and sparkle of modern tween culture. She doesn't care much about clothes or make-up, and she scoffs at the hysteria over Justin Bieber. She rolls her eyes at self-conscious teenagers "trying to look cool." She isn't a young girl anymore, but she's not a full-fledged young woman either, and she's OK with that. She's as confident and comfortable in her own skin as an 11-year-old can be.
I share all that so you know my motivation for sharing this list. After her birthday party a few weeks back, Natalie and I chatted a while about what kind of gifts a tween girl like her might like. Many gift guides online these days focus more on the 11-year-old who is ready for a cell phone, Taylor Swift concert tickets and a bag of spa products. That is not Natalie, and I know there are many girls out there who share her preferences.
Hence, this gift guide for tween girls - also known as, gifts my 11-year-old loved getting.
1. Digital Camera
This is what we got Natalie for her birthday this year: a purple (color is important when you are 11) Kodak EasyShare Mini Digital Camera.
Previously, she had a VTech Digital Camera, which worked well for a few years, but lately, it's been erasing her photo stash whenever it feels like it. Frustrating! Plus, she was ready for a camera with more horsepower - something that can zoom and take higher resolution photos and videos. The Kodak EasyShare is user-friendly, small, lightweight and about $65 - but really, any camera similar to it would work. Girls who are 11 are just starting to form their own world. Having a camera to chronicle it makes perfect sense.
2. Scrapbook Kit or Digital Scrapbook Gift Card
If your girl already has a camera, the logical next step is to record those memories. Natalie loves crafts, and a physical scrapbook would be the easiest entry point.
Try something like the American Girl Crafts Super Scrapbook Kit (picture above) or the Alex Toys My Sweet Scrapbook. If the girl you're buying for isn't into stickers and glue, you could always move directly to digital scrapbooking. Shutterfly is an easy to use, online site that even an 11-year-old could use to make fun, fabulous photo books of her adventures. (I might get a Shutterfly gift card for Natalie for Christmas.)
3. Craft Kits
Almost all 11-year-old girls are brimming with creativity of some sort. The trick is knowing their passion of the moment. Last year, we gave Natalie a horse stamp set for Christmas, because she was super into horses. We also got her a couple of American Girl craft kids and they were huge hits. My favorite: This fabric bag. Not only is it sturdy and useful, but the girls can personalize it. Adorable.
(Side note: I was incredibly impressed with the quality of the American Girl crafts. Fabrics were soft, instructions easy to follow. The finished product was built to last years, not days. Highly recommend.) One hint for buying craft kits for tween girls: Find a kit that teaches them something. Girls this age want desperately to be valued and productive. A craft that teaches them to sew or draw or make jewelry with beads is much better than a sticker set. (Said the lady who bought her daughter horse stamps. Do as I say, not as I do.)
4. iPod Shuffle
This was Natalie's birthday present last year, and she's still madly in love with it. It was a relatively cheap gift - around $50 - and I bet you could find it for even less on sale. I manage her music using my iTunes account, which works for both of us. I also like that a Shuffle is simple to use, hip and yet it can't text or access the Internet. Win-win.
5. Ice skates / roller blades
Natalie has a set of both, and she is equally enamored. I love that these gifts get her active and encourage her to learn a new skill. Maybe your girl doesn't have access to ice or sidewalks. No matter. The point is to find something that is fun and new and maybe a bit challenging. If you can find a place where she can take a few lessons with her new equipment, that's a bonus. And be sure it's not a team sport, which can be so intimidating to girls this age. This should be an opportunity for them to compete against themselves, a confidence booster.
6. Cool furniture
A few years ago, Natalie was given a (purple) chair for her birthday. It's similar to this hang-a-round chair at Pottery Barn Teens.
It's round and cozy and foldable, so it's easy to move or store. It's the perfect place to curl up on a rainy Saturday and read a book or three. (Or a great place to keep your Shriveled Balloon Collection, which is what Natalie's chair is doing right now. Keeping it real, folks.) Pottery Barn's chair is obviously a tad high on the price spectrum, but you can find all sorts of fun chairs or beanbags at Target, Wal-Mart or Ikea. I would never have thought of giving furniture as a gift, but done right, it can be practical and cool.
This is another practical-but-fun gift. I mean, how cute is this?
Look for something bright and quirky that reflects your girl's style. I also recommend you get one that collapses so it will fit into a backpack. Natalie takes her umbrella to school when it looks gloomy, and she loves that she can stash it in her bag.
8. Snow cone maker
This goes back to my theory that tween girls want to be productive! Natalie has a snow-cone machine, and nothing makes her happier than when one of her siblings asks her to make a snow cone. She positively glows! We got a version of this one, which I highly recommend.
It's not just a cute snow cone machine designed for preschoolers. It's a real ice shaver that can be used to make everything from snow cones to slushies. It's also held up extremely well. Natalie even took it to school for a class party last spring. Huge hit.
Natalie's favorite games right now enable her to be social (she's 11; duh) and competitive but not to the point of extremity. Playing games for her is a chance to deepen relationships, not show off how fast she can hit a buzzer or move her game piece around the board. Games that are easy to explain and not heavy on the rules are a plus. Her top picks are an ever evolving thing, but I would recommend these without hesitation: UNO Flash, Qwirkle, Connect 4x4 and Clue. (She might be getting Clue for Christmas, so I'm going out on a limb with that one. But I loved it when I was a tween. That has to count for something, right?)
Almost every tween girl I know is a bookworm. Natalie is no exception. Of course, books can be terribly personal. But these are a few series Natalie has loved. Note: There are no Sweet Valley High or Hunger Games or Twilight-type books on this list, in keeping with the theme of not pushing them to grow up.
A to Z Mysteries
The Complete Little House Nine-Book Set
the Puppy Place books
11. Activity for 2
You know what tween girls need more than stuff? They need you. They need loving adults in their lives to listen and talk and just be with them. Hence, my final suggestion. Find an activity your girl loves - or something that will challenge her to learn something new. Social media sites like Groupon and Living Social can be fun for this; they offer great deals on services or experiences you might not have considered. What about an afternoon of paddle boarding? Or rock climbing lessons? Tickets to a Circque de Soleil show? Take her to tea. Go get a pedicure.
The time you spend together will be the real gift - for both of you.