THE GIRL was already 10 and had never bowled. But the day was growing uncomfortably hot and the bowling center was air-conditioned. So in we went, strangers in a strange land of hardwood lanes and crashing pins.

Outfitted in bowling shoes and clutching our score sheet, we prepared to do battle on our assigned lane ("No one on either side, please," we had requested). But the aspiring bowler could barely lift the ball she had chosen. Discouragement threatened to set in.

"Here," I said hastily, "here's an eight- pound ball." It was the lightest one the 10-pin center stocked. She jammed her fingers into the holes and staggered up to the lane.

Poised in front of the long alley, she looked thoughtfully toward the distant pins, then turned, set the ball on the floor and said, "I don't want to."

The morromised to be very long.

"Come on," I cajoled. "Give it a try."

She sighed, put her fingers back into the holes, took one-two-three steps, pretty as you please, and sent the rumbler on its way.

"How did you learn to do that?" I asked in amazement.

"By watching television," she said.

The ball rolled ever so slowly down the lane, hooked to the left just before the pins, and sank into the gutter. Again she rolled, and again the ball found the gutter, and again, and again . . . I wasn't doing so well either.

We stopped for a few minutes. She rubbed her fingers and revealed a developing blister -- on her index finger. What?

"Say, how are you holding the ball?" I inquired, seeing a possible flaw.

"With these," she said, showing her thumb, index and middle fingers.

"That's it!" I cried. "You're using the wrong fingers. Use the middle and ring fingers, not the index. Maybe that's why you've got such a strae left hook."

So we resumed bowling. This time the girl knocked off a few pins and even scored a spare. That peculiar left hook reappeared at times. But now she refused to quit. Even after the adults around us were finished, the girl was still bowling like a child possessed. She was using body language now, waving her arms like a traffic cop at a busy intersection, urging the ball to curve inward and take out more pins.

She took on the task of scoring as well -- "Quick! What's 45 plus 9 plus another spare?" -- and learned how to calculate the increased points of a spare or the occasional strike. As we improved, and made the scoring more difficult, her elementary-school arithmetic met the challenge.

What about joining a league? asked the desk man. Three games every Saturday morning, shoe rental and instruction included, plus tournaments. The mini-bowler considered. By fall, she wouldn't need the air conditioning so much, but keeping score would be a neat way to polish up her basic math skills. And besides, she was getting the hang of body English. Maybe there was something to this sport after all. SO GO BOWL

This weekend is a great time to take your child bowling. All Gold Pin bowling centers, including all Bowl America and Fair Lanes facilities, are offering Good Old Days Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., you can bowl a game for only a quarter; shoe rental is a quarter; and hot dogs and soft drinks are a quarter each.

If your child enjoys the sport, you might inquire about leagues for youngsters. For about $4 per week, he or she will be placed on a team that plays three games, usually on Saturdays. The fee includes initial instruction, shoe rental, participation in tournaments and more. League play begins sometime between this weekend and the first week in September, depending on bowling center.

For 10-pin bowling, here's a sampling of suburban centers:

MARYLAND

Brunswick River Bowl, Bethesda. 656-5531. Congressional Plaza Bowl, Rockville. 881-6633. Crofton Bowling Center, Crofton. 261-6670. Fontana's Bowlarama, Silver Spring. 439-1731. Lord Calvert Lanes, Huntington. 855-1047. Parkland Bowl, Suitland. 735-5940. Riverdale Bowl, Riverdale. 864-5940. St. Charles Bowl, Waldorf. 843-2244. Suitland Bowling Center, Suitland. 735-9534. Wheaton Triangle Lanes, Wheaton. 949-8900. White Oak Bowling Lanes, Silver Spring. 593-3000.

Chains with several locations:

Bowl America, 941-6300: Glassmanor, 839-4550; Hyattsville, 773-5800; Kent (Kentland), 773-5800; Oxon Hill, 839-4550; Silver Hill, 894-3700; Silver Spring, 585- 6900; Temple Hills, 894-3700; Twinbrook (Rockville), 762-5900; Westwood (Bethesda), 654-1320.

Fair Lanes Bowling Centers: Bowie, 262-5553; Capital Plaza (Hyattsville), 772-6565; Clinton, 868-6660; College Park, 474-8282; Laurel, 490-6006; Marlow Heights, 432- 2222; Shady Grove (Gaithersburg), 948-1390; University (Adelphi), 439-1660; Waldorf, 843-1494; Prince George's Plaza (Hyattsville), 559-7313.

VIRGINIA

Alexandria Bowling Center. 765-3633. Annandale Bowling Center. 256-2211. Falls Church Bowling Center. 533-8131. Penn Daw Bowling Lanes, Alexandria. 765-5722. Reston Bowling Center. 471-9666. Shirley Park Bowl, Arlington. 684-5800. Ten Pin Coliseum, Alexandria. 765-3633.

Chains with several locations:

Bowl America: Burke, 425-9303; Dranesville (Herndon), 430-1350; Shirley (Alexandria), 354-3300; Duke (Alexandria), 751-1900; Fairfax, 273-7700; Falls Church, 534-1370; Manassas, 368-2161; Woodbridge, 494-9191.

Fair Lanes: Alexandria, 823-6200; Centreville, 830- 3700; Dale City, 670-2111); Springfield, 451-2300. SITTING DUCKPINS

The District of Columbia has no 10-pin bowling alley. Fun Bowl, on East Capitol Street (399-1333), is a duckpin facility. And duckpin lanes can be a good place to start, especially fo little children. A duckpin alley is the same length as for 10-pins, but the pins are shorter and squatter, and the ball is smaller and hole-less -- and easier for youngsters to manage.

Other duckpin facilities include:

Glenmont Duck Pin Bowl (942-4200); Fair Lanes College Park (474-8282); Fair Lanes Prince George's (559-7313), Queenstown Duck Pin Bowl (864-5940).

The following offer both duckpins and 10-pins: Bowl America Westwood (654-1320); Fair Lanes Bowie (262- 5553); Fair Lanes Laurel (490-6006); Fair Lanes Meadow Heights (423-2222), Wheaton Triangle Lanes (949-8900).