Anita Rui Olds

Anita Rui Olds

Anita Rui Olds was passionate about designing children's play spaces that would fulfill their developmental needs and provide a “rich environment for the wild spirit to flourish.”1 As a designer, consultant, writer, and instructor, Dr. Olds was one of North America's leading experts on child care center design.2

She underscored the importance of healthy early childhood learning environments with the realization that “by the end of 1995, one out of every three of the nation’s 20 million children under five was in an institutional or commercial children care center.”3 She warned that “the child-care center is really becoming the child-rearing habitat of future generations in this country.”4

With a doctorate degree in Human Development and Social Psychology from Harvard University, Dr. Olds taught at both Harvard Graduate School of Design and Tufts University since 1969.5 Her first book, Designing Developmentally Optimal Classrooms for Children with Special Needs. Perspectives on Young Children with Special Needs, was published in 1979 by University Park Press.

During this time she founded her firm, Anita Olds & Associates, based in Woodacre, California, that designed children's daycares, hospitals, museums, therapeutic and special-needs settings, playgrounds, and schools. She also was on the advisory council of the ECO Institute.

In the 1980s, Dr. Olds lectured at the Elliot Pearson School of Child Study at Tufts University and eventually published her second book, Environmental Design Class, at Tufts in 1987. Nancy Striniste described her “passionate articulation of what children needed and deserved” as “truly revolutionary” and personally life changing.6 Other published writings included Child Health Care Facilities: Design Guidelines and Literature Outline and Architectural Prototype Document: Study for the Development of Day-Care Centers in State Facilities, a work she co-authored about day-care centers in Massachusetts.7

Seeing the need to gather and educate architects, designers, and child-care specialists, in 1990 Dr. Olds founded the Child Care Design Institute.8 The week-long summer program co-sponsored by Harvard and Tufts Universities taught the complex needs of the well-designed child-care center. Topics covered included natural lighting, different ages’ needs, welcoming areas, intermediate spaces to outside venues, over-designing tendencies, children friendly parking lots, color choices, ceiling heights, group areas, quiet areas, messy areas, toxicity of materials, and the needs of the child-care workers.

She maintained that children had four basic needs: movement, comfort, competence, and control, and her classes explored how to satisfy those needs.9 Some solutions included creating rooms with different moods, different levels of “softness” and sensory stimulation, accommodations for quiet and active play, and creating beauty for “psychic wholeness and tranquility.”10 She also utilized visualization processes to assist designers with reaching the core of design needs.

Dr. Olds directed the Institute until her death in 1999. Child Care Design Guide, posthumously published in 2000, includes floor plans, drawings, charts, illustrations, and photographs of effective and efficient designs that consider the importance of the child's learning environment.

  • 1. Caldarero, Camille C. “The Mystical, The Magical, Pre-School Natural Playgrounds.” Minnesota Association for the Education of Young Children News. < > 11 Feb. 2013.
  • 2. White, Randy and Vicki Stoecklin. “The Great 35 Square Foot Myth.” White Hutchinson, Leisure & Learning Group. < > 11 Feb. 2013.
  • 3. Op.cit., Caldarero.
  • 4. Gardner, Marilyn. “Designing the Right Child-Care Center.” The Christian Science Monitor. < > 24 March 2013.
  • 5. “Child Care Design Guide, Author Biography.” McGraw Hill Education, Professional. < > 11 Feb. 2013.
  • 6. Striniste, Nancy. Personal Correspondence with Playground Professionals. 13 Feb. 2013.
  • 7. Marberry, Sara O. Innovations in Healthcare Design. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1995. p. 210.
  • 8. Becker, T.J. “Space is Building Block in Shaping Young Lives.” Chicago Tribune Business. < > 24 March 2013.
  • 9. Klein, Amy Sussna. “Creating Peaceful Environmental Designs for the Classroom.” Earlychildhood NEWS. < > 11 Feb. 2013.
  • 10. Olds, Anita Rui. “The Spirit of Place.” Child Care Information Exchange. < > 11 Feb. 2013.