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PLaTO-Net (Play, Learn and Teach Outdoors Network):
a global network of thought-leaders interested in advancing research and practice related to outdoor play, risky play, outdoor learning and teaching through play.


Questions, comments, suggestions regarding the PLaTO-Net Terminology, Taxonomy, and Ontology Project?

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Outdoor Play Canada aims to establish a global network of thought-leaders interested in advancing research and practice related to outdoor play, risky play, outdoor learning and teaching through play. PLaTO-Net’s vision is a world where all people, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, income, or medical conditions, are afforded the opportunity to play and learn in natural environments and have access to quality outdoor experiences. PLaTO-Net’s mission is to bring interested leaders, researchers, educators, stakeholders, and policy makers together in promoting and advancing outdoor play, learning, and teaching. We are currently recruiting people to become members of PLaTO-Net. PLaTO-Net members will work on various projects to share evidence and resources, harmonize terminology, and collaborate on research and advocacy efforts. Dr. Mark Tremblay and Dr. Eun-Young Lee (Queen’s University) are heading up this project.

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PLaTO-NET Terminology, Taxonomy, Ontology Global Harmonization Project

Research related to play, teaching and learning in the outdoors continues to grow rapidly. Currently, there are contradictions/competition on key terms, which causes confusion and impedes the advancement of this field. There is a need to harmonize the terminology, taxonomy, and ontology related to playing, teaching and learning in the outdoors. This project, through the direction of the steering committee, aimed to achieve global consensus on these terms and concepts and develop an inclusive model encompassing outdoor play, learning and teaching to facilitate future research in the field.

The results of this project have been published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. Access the published PLaTO-Net Terminology, Taxonomy, and Ontology paper here

View the final definitions, taxonomy, and ontology model produced from this project, below.

PLaTO Ontology Model

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.

Terminology and taxonomy of PLaTO



Root terms* Sub-terms Proposed definition Synonym/co-hyponym

Any open-air, wild, natural, or human-made space 

Nuances: The space may include a temporary or fixed cover (e.g., awning or roof) but maintain exposure to ambient environmental conditions 

Built environment Human-constructed physical surroundings (e.g., structures, features, facilities) in which people live, learn, work, travel, and play 
Green space

Any vegetated land, an area of grass or trees that may also contain bodies of water (e.g., pond, creek), in an urban environment 

 Nuances: The space may either set apart for recreational or aesthetic purposes or wasteland areas that have been colonized by nature in an otherwise urban environment 

Loose parts Natural or manufactured play materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials, moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways 
Playground A piece of land usually equipped with facilities and/or equipment that is used for outdoor play and recreation 
School ground Proprietary outdoor area on the land of educational institution buildings  Synonym: School yard 
Natural environment Non-built surroundings and conditions in nature in which living and non-living things co-exist Synonym: Nature 
Garden Planted, developed, or cultivated land used to grow vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers, and other living plants and organisms
Outdoor place space Any outdoor area where people can play

Voluntary engagement in activity that is fun and/or rewarding and usually driven by intrinsic motivation 

Nuances: Not all play is self-directed and intrinsically motivated 

Outdoor play A form of play* that takes place outdoors*  Co-hyponym: Outdoor recreation
Active play A form of play* that involves physical activity of any intensity 
Free play A form of play* that is unstructured and self-directed  Synonym: Unstructured play 
Nature play A form of play* that takes place in a natural environment and/or involves interaction with natural elements and features (e.g., water and mud, rocks, hills, forests, and natural loose parts, such as sticks, pinecones, leaves, and grass) Co-hyponym: Nature-based recreation 
Risky play A form of play* that is thrilling and exciting, which involves uncertainty, unpredictability, and varying degrees of risk-taking
Social play A form of play that involves interacting with others  
Learning The development of knowledge, skills, values, morals, beliefs, and habits
Outdoor learning Learning* that takes place outdoors* 
Teaching The process of facilitation of learning
Outdoor teaching Teaching* that takes place outdoors* 
Education The process of learning* and teaching*
Outdoor education Education* that takes place outdoors*
Environmental education A form of education* aimed at increasing knowledge, awareness, and appreciation of the environment
Forest schools An educational* approach that includes regular and repeated access to natural space and participant-directed, emergent, and place-based learning Co-hyponym: Forest kindergartens, forest preschools, forest programs 
Outdoor classroom

A shared space of learning* and teaching* in the school context that is entirely outdoors 

Nuances: Unlike outdoor education, outdoor classroom takes regular pedagogy and curriculum outdoors in the school context 

Place-based learning

Learning* that considers the importance of connecting learners with their community by anchoring pedagogy within the context of the locally natural, cultural, and social ecosystems  

Nuances: The learning focuses on a specific physical space which may or may not involve the natural environment 

Co-hyponym: Place-based education
Land-based education

An approach to education* that recognizes a deep connection and relationship of reciprocity between people and the land

Nuances: This is specific to the North American context based on Indigenous epistemology of which the land is being understood beyond physical sense and as spiritual, emotional, and intellectual sense 

Co-hyponym: Land-based learning
Nature-based education A form of teaching* and learning* situated in the context of outdoor natural settings Co-hyponym: Nature-based learning, nature-based preschool
Learning for sustainability A cross-curricular approach to life and learning* which enables learners, educators, schools, and their wider communities to build a socially just, ecologically sustainable, and equitable society
Other terms related to PLaTO
Outdoor activity Leisure, recreational, educational, occupational, and/or health-enhancing activity engaged in the outdoors
Outdoor time Time spent outdoors
*Refer to the definition of the corresponding root term

PLaTo-Net Steering Committee


Name Country Affiliation
Mark Tremblay Canada Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario
Eun-Young Lee Canada Queen’s University
Mariana Brussoni Canada University of British Columbia
Greg Mannion Scotland University of Stirling
Shawn Marsolais Canada Blind Beginnings
Mark Leather England Plymouth Marjon University
Libby Lee-Hammond Australia Murdoch University
Bjørg Oddrun Hallås Norway Western Norway University of Applied Sciences
Sue Waite England University of Plymouth
Sarah Moore Canada Douglas College
Tove Anita Fiskum Norway Nord University
Po-Yu (Eric) Wang Taiwan National Taiwan University of Physical Education and Sport
Maria Isabel Amando de Barros Brazil Alana Foundation
Cathy Jordan USA University of Minnesota
Ellen Beate Hansen Sandseter Norway Queen Maud University College
Claire Warden Scotland Mindstretchers Academy
Nancy Spencer-Cavaliere Canada University of Alberta
Louise Zimanyi Canada The Conversation
Susanna Ho Singapore Ministry of Education, Singapore
Claire Bartels South Africa University of Cape Town
Peter Bentsen Denmark Bispebjerg and Frederiksberg Hospital
Michelle Guerrero Canada Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario

PLaTO-Net’s vision is a world where all people, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, income, or medical conditions, are afforded the opportunity to play and learn in natural environments and have access to quality outdoor experiences.