"Karen, will you play house with me?" called Chelsea from across the room ... "Sure" said Karen as she wove her way through the busy children in her preschool classroom. She tapped on the door of the playhouse. "Come in" chorused the children. Karen stooped through the child-sized doorway and sat down on a small chair. "Hmm, I see you're feeding your babies," she remarked, glancing at the two dolls stuffed into the highchair. Effortlessly, Karen entered the children's play, gently and unobtrusively building on their ideas, deepening their play.

This scene is typical of the way Karen Westphal, a preschool teacher at the Early Learning Centre (ELC) in Regina works with the children in her care, weaving a world of imagination and exploration with them and extending their experience both in and outside the classroom. She has been the teacher in the "Blue Room" at the ELC for over 23 years and her room today reflects what she has learned about children and teaching during this time.

The stimulating environment that Karen provides is a shared learning space. Evidence of the children's work and thoughts are visible everywhere as is her love of art and nature. The learning environment extends outside the classroom, introducing the children to the rich sources in the neighbourhood where they quickly become keen observers of the local architecture, the library and nearby parks. Clipboards in hand, the children draw their impressions of the surroundings. Back in the classroom, they create multimedia interpretations of their out­door experiences, projects which can last for months. The quality of Karen's project work was recognized by author Susan Fraser in the second edition of her book Authentic Childhood - which included a description of the Scyther Cafe project that Karen and her colleague Danica had developed with the children.

Born and raised in Regina, Karen graduated from the University of Regina in 1981 with a Bachelor of Education degree. Her skills as a teacher and her knowledge of how children learn best have grown steadily over the years. She has worked hard to develop her professional expertise, making full use of every learning opportunity. A highlight for Karen was to participate in the Canadian educational trip to Reggio Emilia in 2006. She returned from the tour bubbling with ideas and incorporating Reg­gio principles more thoroughly into her practice.

Karen has a keen sense of children's interests and ensures that the learning environment in her classroom is rich, multi-sensory, culturally sensitive and organized in such a way as to invite exploration and minimize the need for restrictive behaviour management practices. She is gentle and affirming; she is non-judgmental and sees the best in children-and their families. She creates a climate of respect where everyone has something to contribute. She is patient as she waits for the children's ideas to unfold. The children grow in confidence as they develop relationships with others and learn about themselves and the world they live in. They discover that: they are competent learners and quickly share Karen's excitement about the process of learning and discovery. Children who moved on to "big school" - remember Karen with affection an enjoy returning to visit their former teacher and classroom where they learned that their ideas were valued an they were trusted to handle real things such as cameras, to record their explorations.

Karen's relationships with parents are positive; she is welcomed into their :.. homes and enjoys seeing their pride as she shares the documentation and the memorable stories of their child's experiences at the Early Learning Centre. In her private life, Karen comes from _ close-knit family. She is the mother : two adult sons whom she describes "her inspiration". She is an avid reader, gardener and theatre enthusiast; she also known affectionately for her love chocolate! An active member of Regina Branch of CAYC for many years.. Karen's warm personality endears her - her friends as well her colleagues.

She has a natural love of children and is one of the rare people who have he onto their love of play into adulthood and as a result, she is passionate about children's right to play. She truly is a "Friend of Children" and most deserving of this award.