Buying the right toys and books for children below the age of three is not always as simple as grabbing the latest gizmo with flashing lights. The development of motor skills, self-esteem and imagination are key considerations when visiting the range of children's toy and bookshops at Horizon Plaza. Toys Club general manager Joan Szeto says gross motor skills, often lacking in Hong Kong children because of the small size of flats, can be developed with a simple ball for kicking and throwing. Other useful toys for building motor skills include a crawling tunnel, pedal car, tricycle or trampoline. Fine motor skills are just as important and need to be developed before children learn to write. Lacing and pounding toys are good to get fingers moving, while peg puzzles get minds working. 'Children also like to create, so Play-Doh, building blocks and finger painting are good for self-esteem.' As children get older, games such as Snakes and Ladders are classics. 'These teach obedience, rules and social interaction,' Szeto says. 'They learn to follow instructions, interact and respect winning and losing.' Some of the best toys are those that allow a child to imagine through open-ended play. Bumps to Babes marketing manager Lucy McLennan says an example is to allow children to dress up as their favourite characters. 'Puppets and hand puppets are also good for helping them to imagine and create stories,' says McLennan, who also recommends toys such as a workbench, kitchen and tea set. For babies, teething toys, soft cubes, play mats, baby gyms and sorting and stacking toys are essential, McLennan says. Babies' senses can also be stimulated with brightly coloured toys full of lights and sounds. The most popular toys may not always be the best for your child. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is repeat purchasing of similar toys for their child. 'Parents tend to buy toys their kids enjoy the most [for example, dolls or cars],' Szeto says. 'However, toys are educational tools and children need various exposure to stimulate their development.' McLennan also advises parents to rotate toys to keep children stimulated and interested. Just as important to a child's early brain development is reading, says Szeto, who also looks after Pollux Books. 'We notice that babies who are read to on a regular basis tend to start to read earlier than their peers,' Szeto says. McLennan says for the first few months it does not matter what you read to your child. 'It could be a magazine, newspaper or even a book you are currently reading - the most important thing is that you are spending time together reading to your child,' she says. 'Reading out loud gives your newborn a chance to listen to their favourite sound - your voice. A bit later, when your child shows more interest in the actual book, you can start on books with bright pictures, images of items they recognise around the house or food they like to eat, and simple stories with only a few words on each page.' For babies, Szeto recommends bath books, board books they can bite on, and colourful cloth books with sounds and various textures. Pop-up books, interactive books they can touch and feel, or even scratch-and-sniff editions can develop a child's interest in reading. 'Letter knowledge and phonological awareness can be learned when one reads with the child and points to the word while reading,' Szeto says. 'This will help them relate to how the word is formed and work out the sounds associated with the letters.' There is also a selection of books without words that allow the reader to narrate the story and create their own versions. These are very popular as children can use their own imagination. Dr Seuss is a perennial favourite author because he introduces the fun of language throughout classics such as The Cat in the Hat and One Fish, Two Fish. Other top sellers include How Much I Love You, which tells of motherly love, and Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. 'One of the best ways you can ensure that children grow up to be readers is to have books around your house and be seen by your children to be reading yourself,' McLennan says. 'Be sure that when your baby is old enough to crawl over to a basket of toys that a variety of books are included as well.'