ADMITTEDLY, the weather this summer has not been kind. But, even so, this is the time of year children look forward to most as it gives them a break from school, books, homework and the constant pressure to learn. You would think few children would want to spend their summer in front of a computer screen learning about spreadsheets, database programs, desktop publishing, graphics applications and computer programming tools. Not so, according to Eric Chin, president of the Hong Kong branch of Futurekids, a United States-based company that aims to teach computer skills in a way children will find fun. The whole idea behind Futurekids is not just to teach children lessons they can learn at school, or how to use computers. It is a combination of both, where, with the aid of personal computers and multimedia software, children can learn about everything from astronomy to the animal kingdom, and build up their knowledge of computers at the same time. Mr Chin said the fun element was very important in the classes. ''We are trying to combine computer literacy and learning elements and make the process fun. ''Many of the kids who come to us eventually say that our courses are more interesting than school. Many schools have computer training systems, but kids just don't think they are as much fun as ours.'' Futurekids' courses are offered in three stages, with the level of skills and knowledge on offer increasing at each level. So far this summer, Futurekids has held seven camps. The focus of them in terms of computer training was to introduce children to operating systems and applications and also programming tools. Mr Chin said: ''Kids don't always want to play games. They want to learn applications, especially in Hong Kong. Many kids care for their parents' pockets. ''They prefer learning practical applications, which is why many have joined the Junior Entrepreneur classes where they have to run a mock business.'' If any class is particularly well suited to Hong Kong life, the $2,800 Junior Entrepreneur at Work course must be it. As part of the programme, children are taught how to set up a company and then run it. They have to maintain accounts, work on cash-flow, marketing and advertising, basically everything they would have to do in a real life business situation. In the class, they gain experience in computerised database management, and the use of spread-sheets, graphics and desktop publishing programs. The Futurekids' curriculum is designed at its headquarters in Los Angeles, where manuals are prepared and software selections made for the educational programs taught at more than 50 worldwide franchises. Outside the United States, where it has about 1,200 sites, the organisation has outlets in Canada, Australia, Mexico, Ireland, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Hong Kong. The territory's centre is based at North Point. It was set up in March last year and its directors were trained in Los Angeles. Children attending Futurekids' classes have varied in age from three to 15 years, with primary school students aged six to 11 forming the majority. Training is carried out with the help of eight IBM PCs with 486 microprocessors, CD-ROM drives and full multimedia capabilities. An Apple Macintosh-based curriculum has just been introduced by Futurekids and the Hong Kong centre hopes to begin using it by next year. Special emphasis is placed on keeping the size of each learning group small. ''Our ratio is one teacher to four kids,'' Mr Chin said. ''This way kids can get more attention and teachers can guide them better.'' Space Adventure, a $3,200 course, is where children learn about the solar system, space exploration, constellations, meteorites, and the search for life in other galaxies. At the same time, they learn computer database management skills and use graphics and desktop publishing programs, computer simulation programs, all with the help of high-quality PC multimedia technology. A $3,500 course on robotics teaches eight year olds and above engineering and computer programming, while helping them brush up on science. Children are allowed to build robots using parts such as gears, wheels, motors and touch and optical sensors. Then, with the help of Logo, a computer programming language designed for children, they hook up their creations to a computer, and control the robots after writing their own programs. Megabyte Zoo, a course for children from four to seven years old, costs $2,800 and teaches animal recognition, habitats and geography. Other courses, such as Windows for Kids ($1,200) and Rapid Fire ($1,300), allow children to learn to use the Microsoft Windows graphical user environment and also brush up on their keyboard skills. Mr Chin said the response to Futurekids' methods in Hong Kong had been positive, adding that word-of-mouth advertising among parents had accounted for much of the centre's success. ''When we started, we had about 30 students. This summer alone, we have had more than 300.'' Children are not the only ones benefiting from Futurekids' methods. According to Mr Chin, a number of parents were taking advantage of the centre's 'Mommy & Me' courses to learn about computers themselves. ''Some parents want to be trained because the kids often know more about computers than they do,'' he said. ''Last November and April, we provided courses for more than 40 parents.'' These courses, held under the banner of Parent Power, were temporarily stopped this summer so that Futurekids could focus on training children. The classes for adults will resume in September, with Parent Power 1 being held for beginners and Parent Power 2 providing more advanced training for grown-ups. In the majority of classes at the local centre, English is used as the medium of instruction since the ratio of expatriate to local children is about seven to three. There are a number of classes in Chinese, but all software used at the centre is English-based.