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Best Overall: Fujifilm Instax Mini 9
Middle school is filled with the time of sleepovers, best friends, and coming into a unique personal style. What better way to celebrate the life of your 12-year-old than through physical memories? These days most of our photos are digital, but a Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 Instant Camera is a great way to create tangible pictures. A click of a button will create miniature sized Polaroid-type photos your child can hang or frame to create beautiful wall art. The camera comes in blue, pink, lime green, and white, and is light enough to throw in a backpack for adventures. The camera also has a small selfie mirror and a constant-firing flash. The automatic exposure measurement helps create perfect photos every time.
Overall, owners love the old-fashioned feel of this camera, saying that although it doesn’t take DSLR-level photos, it’s a fun way to commemorate an event and create memories that will last a lifetime. Note that the film for this camera can be a little expensive, so that's something to keep in mind.
Best Sketchbook: Pentalic Sketch Book
Whether your pre-teen is a budding artist or just likes to doodle, the Pentalic Sketch Book is a great way to encourage and cultivate her artistic side. This 11 x 8.5-inch notebook contains 110 blank bright white pages made from 70-pound paper. The hardbound book is great for sketching on the go, and the black textured embossed cover looks important and high-end. The lay-flat binding makes it easy to draw and doodle, and your child’s artwork won’t bleed through from one page to the next.
Reviewers say that the Pentalic is a great sketchbook for any future artist. The high-quality thick pages are perfect for any type of pen or marker, and though you cannot rip the pages out it, it’s easy to quickly flip through the sketchbook. Overall, the Pentalic is a great gift for the artsy pre-teen in your life.
Best Sneakers: Vans Old Skool
No matter what style your 12-year-old is exploring these days, the Vans Old Skool sneakers are a super on-trend choice that she's sure to love. These vintage-inspired sneakers have a canvas upper and rubber sole with additional padding for all-day comfort. They come in a multitude of colors, including solid tones and patterns such as floral and camouflage. Though the style is reminiscent of ’90s skate shoes, they’re tailored and streamlined for all occasions.
Reviewers say the Vans Old Skool sneakers are comfortable and fashionable for any age. They fit true-to-size and have enough support for hundreds of steps. Plus, Zappos offers free shipping and returns within 365 days, so you will be protected if your 12-year-old needs to exchange sizes or styles.
Worried about keeping her new shoes clean? The canvas upper can be cleaned with a shoe cleaner or you can throw them in the wash (just don't put them in the dryer).
Best for Foodies: Carley Sheehy DIY Mochi Ice Cream Kit
This DIY Mochi Ice Cream Kit is the perfect surprise for your burgeoning foodie. A little unexpected and a lot of fun, this DIY kit comes with everything needed to create Japanese mochi balls at home. Each set comes with sweet rice flour, potato starch, matcha green tea and cocoa powder, a dough cutter, and a silicone mochi mold, so you can transform your favorite ice cream into a chewy rice cake. The kit will make up to 32 pieces of mochi, but your pre-teen can reuse the tray with additional ingredients to make even more. Not only is this mochi kit delicious, but it’s a great hands-on activity for the whole family.
Owners say the DIY Mochi Kit may be messy, but it’s loads of fun. It’s easy to use (even for the novice chef in your life) and creates adorable, delicious mochi everyone will love.
Best Bedroom Accessory: Urban Outfitters Mod Clips String Lights
No middle school girl’s bedroom is complete without a set of string lights, which is why we love these Mod Clips String Lights. Not only do these twinkle lights add a little ambient light to any space, but they also have mini clips to display your 12-year-old’s favorite photos and prints. Each strand is 7.5 feet and made of copper and resin. They’re perfect for stringing behind a bed or above a desk or a reading nook, and emit just enough light to add a soothing glow. For less than $20, this is a great accessory to accompany an Instax Mini or on its own.
Owners say the Mod Clips String Lights are a fun way to add a touch of light to any space. This stylish string light will allow your 12-year-old to display her favorite photos of friends and family anywhere she wants.
Best Clothing: Patagonia Girls' Lightweight Synchilla Snap-T Fleece Pullover
Every girl’s wardrobe needs a comfortable, cozy pullover, and you can’t go wrong with the Patagonia Girls' Lightweight Synchilla Snap-T Fleece Pullover. This lightweight fleece comes in blue, pink, and gray, and is the perfect accessory for fall sports or walking the dog. The jacket is available in sizes ranging from XS-XXL and comes with Patagonia’s “Ironclad Guarantee” that backs all of their products with a lifetime warranty. It’s made from recycled polyester double-faced fleece and features a four-snap stand-up collar for chillier days. The binding at the sleeves and hem provide extra warmth when the seasons start to change.
The Patagonia fleece is a must-have for nearly every middle schooler. Not only is it warm and fashionable, but it's well-made and will hold up long enough to be passed down to younger siblings.
Best School Supplies: Fiskars Gel Pen Set
Taking notes in math class is a lot more fun when those notes are bright and sparkly. The Fiskars Gel Pen Set comes with 48 assorted gel pens to make long schooldays a little more colorful. The pens contain acid-free ink and have various tip sizes ranging from .8mm to 1.0 mm. Each set comes with glitter, pastel, metallic, neon, swirl, and standard pen colors for scrapbooking, journaling, and more. The easy-flowing ink makes writing and doodling a breeze—perfect for diaries or coloring books.
Owners say the Fiskars set is a great value and provides everything your 12-year-old needs to take the most colorful notes she’s ever seen. Some reviewers mention the pens dry up quicker than they’d like, but for less than $20 for 48 pens, they’re affordable to replace as needed.
Best Phone Accessory: Case-Mate Apple iPhone Twinkle Case
If your 12-year-old is anything like most middle schoolers, her cell phone is her most prized possession. The Case-Mate Twinkle Case is a great way to protect your investment and add a little extra sparkle to your pre-teen’s phone. This eye-catching case is made for Apple XRs (but Target also sells the same case for other phones as well) and is made with glitter foil suspended in clear resin. The case has metallic buttons and is compatible with wireless charging, so your kid won’t have to remove the case to use a charger. The case comes with a limited lifetime warranty against defects and is not only attractive but built to withstand falls and scratches.
Owners love that not only is the Case-Mate pretty, but it’s protective too. One reviewer even said that even after a fall down a flight of stairs, there was not a scratch to be found. If your 12-year-old is always on her phone, protect it with a case she’ll love.