food / kitchen science / life science / poultry / turkey

Thinking Turkeys

It’s turkey time! As you prepare to enjoy holiday meals with your family, consider including your child in the preparation of various dishes. Your kitchen is most likely a hectic place this time of year, nerves are already frazzled, and the kids are wound up. Still, in the spirit of the “family” in family holidays, include your kids in planning and doing when you can. It allows them to make contributions to and feel invested in family traditions. Furthermore, there is much to be learned in handling seasonal produce (think pomegranates, persimmons, Brussels sprouts, and cranberries), or preparing baked goods. If your holiday meal includes a turkey take time to explore this amazing bird inside and out. Around Thanksgiving, many of the activities described for kids involve making cartoonish looking turkeys. Why not explore the real thing?

Before you get started, please familiarize yourself with the Guiding Curiosity approach. You can find this information on the What is Guiding Curiosity page. These instructions, once understood and practiced, will eventually become second nature. The lists of things below are ideas, but we hope that you and your child will play and create your own ways to pursue understanding the world around you.



Curious about those birds?  Ask and think about the following lines of inquiry.


Where do turkeys come from (not the grocery store, please)?

Are there different kinds of turkeys?

How do they live?

What do they eat?

Can they fly?

Do male (toms or gobblers) and female (hens) turkeys look different?

Do turkeys lay eggs? (A fun fact: young turkeys being raised for food are called poults).shutterstock_139596410



All science begins with good observations. Here are some ideas for how to tune in one’s senses over the Thanksgiving holiday.


Invite your child to wash his hands and then take a close look at the bird before and after it is cooked. Examine the skin with a magnifying glass. What does he see? Can he see where the feathers once were?


Examine the skin after the bird has been cooked and before it is carved. What has happened?


Examine the bones, those that are visible before the bird is cooked and the bones that are left over after the meal or the soup is prepared. Find a rib bone, a leg bone, the backbone.


Take a look into the cavity or stick a hand in and feel around. There is something more interesting about bones when the body is still intact versus after a meal when individual bones can be examined but it is harder to imagine where they fit into the bird’s skeletal system.


Find a photo of a turkey and identify various parts with and without feathers. For example, what do the legs and head look like before and after the bird is prepared for cooking?


Which side of the turkey is up?


Examine the giblets if these were included when you purchased the bird. A liver, heart, gizzard, and neck are often included. What does a gizzard do?


How does the head fit on the neck?


Can you identify fat under the skin? Where is the fat most visible?





Examining similarities and differences can highlight observational skills and deepen understanding.  First, consider those contrasts that your child identifies, suggesting others as you discuss these amazing animals.


If you have chicken bones from previous meals, how are these similar or different from a turkey bone?


Compare turkeys to other poultry we consume. Find photos of turkeys, ducks, capons, Cornish hens, chickens, geese, ostrich, emus, and pigeons.


Compare and contrast size, color, habitat and other features of interest.


Compare wild versus farm-raised turkeys. What differences can your child find looking at photos? Why might those differences exist?



Preparing a Thanksgiving meal is the perfect time to talk about and demonstrate many different types of measurements.

If the turkey is not too big, perhaps your child can determine its weight. It is doubtful you have a kitchen scale that is large enough. Try the bathroom scale with your child measuring herself without and then holding the turkey, subtracting the difference.


Measure the thickness or length of the drumstick, the overall length or width of the bird. Measure the length of the wing.


Discuss the oven temperatures throughout cooking.


Discuss the length of time the bird will cook relative to its weight.


If you use a meat thermometer, allow your child to read off the numbers. Take the temperature before the bird goes into the oven. Read the numbers when the bird is still cooking and after it has been removed from the oven. What is the temperature of the meat after the meal? It is a good idea to measure in approximately the same place each time, but the act of measuring is probably more important here than the preciseness of the measurements.


With knowledge of the bird’s weight and the number of people to be fed, what would each serving weigh if everyone got the same portion?



Keep busy on turkey day with ideas for playful investigations.


If the heart was included with the giblets, dissect it.What does the interior look like?


Invite your child to try both dark meat and white meat. Which does he like better?


Does he prefer turkey with or without gravy?


If taking the temperature of the bird throughout cooking, does it make a difference what part of the carcass is measured? Try inserting the thermometer in different parts of the turkey. Are some parts cooking faster than others? Why?


After a meal, you may find someone has left behind the tendons in the drumstick. Cut these off and examine. How flexible or stiff are they? How do they compare with the bones?


Cooking a turkey represents a transformation in the protein through heat. Effective observations as outlined above, compared before and after cooking will be the best way to determine how oven heat changed the tissue. Observations can be enhanced with drawings or photographs.



Invite your child to think through how a turkey would walk. Can she demonstrate? Find videos on-line to confirm.


Make a list of the items served for the holiday meal. What are the different food groups? There are five: grains (cereal, bread, pasta, rice), fruits and vegetables, dairy, meat and proteins (do not forget nuts or beans in this category), and fats, oil, and sweets. Generally, your holiday meals include more dishes making this exercise more interesting.


Take a family poll. Who prefers dark meat? Who prefers white meat? Chart the results.


Where did the tradition of serving turkey at Thanksgiving come from? If you and your child look into this question, you may want to, as suggested above, compare wild and farm-raised turkeys.






food groups


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *