Although the evolution of premixed flames in turbulence has been frequently studied, it is not well understood how small flames interact with large-scale turbulent flow motion. Since this question is of practical importance for the occurrence of cycle-to-cycle variations in spark ignition engines, the objective of the present work is to fundamentally differentiate early flame kernel development from well-established turbulent flame configurations. For this purpose, a direct numerical simulation database consisting of three flames propagating in homogeneous isotropic turbulence (Falkenstein et al., Combust. Flame, 2019, Preprint, arXiv:1908.07556 (accepted)) is considered. The flames feature different ratios of the initially laminar flame diameter to the integral length scale. To quantify flame kernel development, the time evolution of flame topology and flame front geometry are analysed in detail. It is shown that some realizations of the early flame kernel are substantially influenced by high compressive strain caused by large-scale turbulent flow motion with characteristic length scales greater than the flame kernel size. As a result, the initial spherical kernel topology may become highly distorted, which is reflected in the stochastic occurrence of excessive curvature variance. Two mechanisms of curvature production resulting from early flame kernel/turbulence interactions are identified by analysis of the mean curvature balance equation. Further, it is shown that the curvature distribution of small flame kernels becomes strongly skewed towards positive curvatures, which is contrary to developed turbulent flames. Hence, the transition of ignition kernels to self-sustaining turbulent flames is very different in nature compared with the development of a statistically planar flame brush.