How to Tell if a Project is Taking Too Long

Have you ever been stuck in the middle of a never-ending project and not been sure what to do? It’s a great project, and the kids are loving it, but it is TAKING FOREVER.
ugly doll
I had to work through this situation earlier this year when my 5th graders tackled sewing ugly dolls. According to my lesson plans, the whole project should have been wrapped up in 4 days: one for planning, one for sewing, one for stuffing, and one for adding details. I even budgeted in an extra day for slow finishers and uploading to Artsonia. As we approached day 7 with many of my students still sewing, I thought I was going to lose my mind. Why was this project taking this long? What about all the other stuff we had to do? I see my students about 36 times a year, and we had spent almost 20 percent of the year on this one project. So I ask, can a project take too long?


Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you question the length of a project.


1. What are the students learning?

When you find a project taking longer than expected, remind yourself of everything that your students are learning. If you are spending ten class periods just on using grids to draw faces, then there might be an issue. However, if your students are spending weeks on the project because they are creating grids, drawing faces, learning how to paint, selecting a color scheme and finishing their image with a frame, then they really are learning lots of different skills.

Yes, I did have stuffing, fabric, thread, and needles strewn around my room for weeks on end, but my students were designing and creating three-dimensional creatures from their imaginations. They were learning how to sew, creating 3D forms, and then using them for observational drawing. They were using shading and focusing on making their drawings look like their ugly dolls. They were writing stories about their ugly dolls. They developed so many different skills over the course of the project.

2. How are your students reacting to the project?

This is an important thing to consider when looking at a long project. If your students love the project and are invested in what you are doing, they won’t care how long it takes to complete. When we were doing our ugly doll project, the students were working hard every day. Those students who finished early were happy to help other students. It was awesome to see the whole class working together. It was a project that had students talking throughout the building.

3. Is there any way you could streamline or change the project?

When a project starts to take a lot longer than planned, you may need to change your plan. In our ugly doll project, we reached the point when I had to allow students to finish sewing at home or after school. Finishing at home would rarely be my first choice, but there were some students who just needed the extra time. There are times when we need to adjust our plans mid-lesson based on what our students need.
ugly dolls

4. What could you do differently next time?

When you finish a project that took longer than expected, it is always a good idea to look back and see what you could have done along the way to save time. I know that I will be doing another sewing lesson in my classroom, but I also know that next time I will be teaching it with a flipped lesson. Many students spent a lot of time standing in line to ask me questions that could have been answered via a quick video review. I also realized that having students practice sewing on plastic cards would have helped them understand basic sewing skills prior to starting on their final projects.
There is no perfect equation for figuring out how long a project should take, and I think it’s important to introduce our students to both quick and more detailed projects. In fact, I sometimes think that the longer, more challenging lessons are the ones that have the most impact on our students. Rather than focusing on the length of the lesson, it is important that we focus on the quality of the lesson.

How long do you give your students to work on a project?

What is the longest lesson you have ever taught?


Jennifer Carlisle


Jen is a middle school art teacher from Norfolk, NE who loves exploring and teaching art through traditional and digital art mediums.


  • Kendra Visser Lincourt

    I am in the midst of a project with my 8th graders that is going on 2+ weeks. They are into it, working hard, and enjoying it. The end is in sight! As far as finding a way to fix it for next time…what next time? I don’t repeat projects. Crazy, I know.

  • Mr. Post

    #2 is how I decide if it is time to move on with a project. I always look to see if the students are engaged. I see kids about 36 times a year by the time you subtract days they miss for holidays. 36 times for 50 minute classes. I never worry about what I get done in regards to state or national standards. The kids don’t worry about it, why should I? If my students are engaged in authentic art making and having a great time, I’m good with that. When I work in my own art studio, I really don’t care how long it takes to do something. I just want to get into a state of creative flow when I am making it. If the kids can find that state in my art room why would I want to interrupt it?

  • Mel

    I think it’s important to do long (and short) projects with students. In general, K-5, I find students attention span is shortening each year. The projects are fun and engaging.. but I find a percentage of students expect to create and be done in one week – or with the first attempt. They lack perseverance and dedication. So longer projects mixed in with short ones shows that some times Art takes a while, and that working and reworking a skill will help you improve.. that it takes TIME and PRACTICE to get better at something. Great article, thanks.