I made these little "busy jars" for the little ones for a road trip last year, and I still bring them out every now and again to keep them entertained (for as long as a two-year old's attention can be held!). They are ridiculously easy and can be made with items you already have lying around the house.
Just add dry rice (or beans, lentils, cereal, oatmeal) to a plastic jar (peanut butter jars or something similar work well). Fill the jar about halfway to three-quarters of the way full, then add various small household items or toys. TIGHTLY screw on the lid (or use duct tape around the lid to secure). Shake and enjoy! I will usually ask my kids to name what they see, or ask them to find certain objects that I know are in there.
Some ideas of items to include:
screw or nail
penny, nickel, dime, quarter
a straw (cut a section off)
items from Mr. Potato Head (eyes, nose, ear, etc.)
shoes from a Barbie doll
any little toy item will work!
Photo: A Musing Mamma