"When I went to kindergarten, that was my first day of being exposed to learning," he said. "Now they're already expected to know the numbers one through 10, not only to recognize them but be able to write them."
That's a big part of Celebree's pitch — that parents expect child care providers to be more than baby sitters. There are age-specific programs, such as arts, crafts, language and social skills, for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school-age kids.
Huffman grew up steeped in the business.
In 1984, his mother, Elizabeth "Betty" Huffman, launched a center that has expanded into three locations under the name White Marsh Child Care Center. When he was young, Richard said, he used to sweep up at the end of the day.
Ten years later, he opened his first center in Ellicott City.
There are five Celebree sites in both Harford and Carroll counties, four in Baltimore County, three in Anne Arundel County, two in both Howard and Frederick counties and one in Prince George's County. A 23rd location is in New Castle County, Del.
Huffman said he plans to open new locations later this year in Germantown (Montgomery County), Pasadena (Anne Arundel County) and Middletown, Del. Celebree bills itself as the state's largest privately held child care chain.
The chain already employs about 800 teachers caring for 2,300 children from 6 weeks to 12 years old.
"The philosophy is learning begins at birth," Huffman said.