I read with interest the article Feb. 13 concerning the phasing out of recess in some D.C. area schools. When my oldest daughter started first grade, I was surprised to learn that the day included only one recess, just a half-hour long. And now teachers are finding so many excuses to keep their students in the classroom -- misbehavior, incomplete work, special projects, "bad" weather -- that it often happens that my daughters don't get any physical exercise for several days at a time.

I recently told my 9-year-old that, in the fifth grade in private school in New Jersey in 1950, we had "little recess" in the middle of the morning for half an hour, we had what was left over from our half-hour lunch period, and then we had "big recess" in the afternoon. Later, after school, we had something called "ath-a-letics" (not "gym," because we almost never stayed in) for an hour before dismissal. As I remember, recesses were the best part of school. The teachers brought out equipment and organized games for those who wanted to join in -- games children no longer play. My daughter says that the only reason we learned anything with all that playtime was that there was less to know in 1950.

I have the impression, after observing classrooms here, that we learned our subjects, particularly history and geography, much more intensively than today's students do. This may be because of the atmosphere in yesterday's classroom. We respected teachers. We concentrated on the material they presented. They, in turn, concentrated on our deportment, our posture and our answers as we stood to recite.

The amount of learning that took place in our classroom was, I believe, a consequence of the fact that we were encouraged and given the time to play hard at least two hours a day. We were then ready to study hard, with few protests. A fifth-grader could debate, recite poetry, give you 20 reasons why Rome fell and point out any country on a globe. A fifth-grader played intramural field hockey and softball and ran track.

I have heard teachers say, "All right, if you don't shape up, no recess!" Children should not be deprived of recess because of inattention and restlessness, especially when lack of exercise may be the cause.

Something is very wrong. The Bible says, "Whatever thy hand findest to do, do it with all thy might." Children should play hard and work hard. Why can't our educators see that the two go hand in hand? PAMELA WARD MUNDELL Piney Point