There are a couple of blogs I read that document early Montessori-style education. I really like the activities that these moms give their kids; I find it inspiring and usually really inexpensive to keep them entertained for a significant amount of time [22 minutes or so, but that's a long time in the life of a 2 year old.]
We have a basket with several lidded jars, mostly glass, and the kids have to match the jar with the lid. They love to do this, and I usually end up emptying many different items from the jars at the end of the night, all the way from shredded paper to - ick - chewed cereal. Below, they are playing with their own lentil trays. A cookie sheet for containment, a few vessels and a few utensils in interesting shapes and we have a very popular activity. They transfer lentils from one bowl to another, use the funnel to fit them into the little jars, and try really hard to keep them all on their trays. Pequita is, understandably, totally ready for this kind of activity. She revels in it, and will pick lentils over candy most of the time. Monito isn't quite as adept, but he's only 18 months and keeping up admirably.
I am also trying to let them have more 'real life experience' = HUGE MESSES. Pequita and I separated 6 eggs tonight using the antique metal egg separator I found at the thrift store. Very fun. When I turned around next, she was cradling an egg yolk in each palm and then squished them with great joy. She did the whole bowl full, then we combined the yolks and whites and made scrambled eggs. These events are successful if I can quell my need to keep things neat.