A team of 19 educators, practitioners, and researchers from across the globe have just published a consensus project on the terminology, taxonomy, and ontology of 31 key terms in outdoor play, outdoor learning and outdoor teaching. This two-year project in the making was led by the founders of PLaTO-Net (Play, Learn, and Teach Outdoors Network), Dr. Mark Tremblay at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute and Dr. Eun-Young Lee at Queen’s University.

The inspiration for this project was ignited by experts in the field of outdoor education and play attending the International Udeskole conference in Denmark in 2017. At that conference a major of topic of discussion was on how PLaTO terms differ across languages, contexts, and cultures, and that while this is unsurprising, these differences make it challenging to communicate ideas and compare research surrounding PLaTO. Moreover, it was recognized that it is largely unclear how PLaTO terms are defined (I.e., terminology) and categorized (I.e., taxonomy) and how the categories are related or conceptualized (I.e., ontology). This confusion and lack of cohesion makes it challenging to have harmonious dialogue across different academic disciplines and cultures, thus limiting progress and credibility of the PLaTO sector.

Lack of consistent and coherent communication from the PLaTO sector to others may be a barrier in building a strong evidence base for policymaking and providing opportunity for crossdisciplinary support and global partnership. For example, PLaTO has clear synergistic linkages with healthy living across the lifespan, environmental stewardship, climate action, and planetary health agendas, yet such synergies remain largely underexplored and underexploited, perhaps due to a lack of cohesiveness and clarity of message. By developing and adopting consistent terminology, taxonomy, and ontology for PLaTO our aim is to enhance communication between and within the sector.

Based on four research phases that involved over 50 global participants, this work presents the final definition and taxonomy of 31 PLaTO terms along with the PLaTO-Net ontology model. This project contributes to advancing PLaTO-based research and facilitating intersectoral and interdisciplinary collaboration, with the long-term goal of fostering and strengthening PLaTO’s synergistic linkages with healthy living, environmental stewardship, climate action, and planetary health agendas. Notably, PLaTO terminology, taxonomy and ontology will continue to evolve, and PLaTO-Net is committed to advancing and updating harmonized knowledge and understanding in the vast and interrelated areas of PLaTO.

To learn more about the project, click here: https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12966-022-01294-0

PLaTO-Net Ontology Model

Note: At the bottom of the model, surrounding the tree roots in the earth, are the terms economic, cultural, social, ecological, geographical, and political which denote some of the main influences on/consequences of outdoor activities. Along the roots are examples of outdoor settings, starting at the top of the roots with ‘environment,’ branching out to the terms natural and built, leading to green space and loose parts, and school ground and playground, respectively. The roots overlap with each other to indicate inter-relationships between all terms in the earth and roots. Along the bark of the tree trunk are examples of purposes/outcomes that can be achieved while engaging in different activities in the outdoors (e.g., living, connecting, growing, be[long]ing, healing, [re]creating, and socializing), where the bark again overlaps with the different terms to indicate the connectivity of and fluidity between these terms. The trunk supports the leafy canopy where we suggest there are five overlapping main types of activities that can be performed outdoors. These activities span across a range of colors that blend into and overlap with each other, with leisure in orange, leading into play in red, learn in green, teach in purple, and work in yellow (e.g., some leisure activities involve play, a lot of play can be informal learning, working outdoors can involve play, or teaching and so on). Some leaves have fallen back down to the soil to indicate the cyclical and interconnected relationship between all elements. There is also a box to the right of the tree with a cross-section indicating the rings of the tree, with the labels early years, children, youth, adults, and elders in concentric rings moving from the outermost ring to the center, just as the youngest tree rings are at the edge and the oldest at the center, to highlight the applicability of the model to all humans across the lifespan


PLaTO-Net (Play, Learn and Teach Outdoors Network) is a global network – established through Outdoor Play Canada – of thought-leaders interested in advancing research and practice related to outdoor play, risky play, outdoor learning and teaching through play. You can become a member of the PLaTO Network for FREE here!