I gave N, 18 months, a chance to experiment with scooping and pouring. Yes it was a mess and yes she tried to put it in her mouth, but it was FUN!
I put a shower curtain liner down on the kitchen floor and gave her a bowl of colored rice and colored noodles (left) and a container of beans (right). With spoons, cups, and shovels she scooped and poured. She liked picking the colored pasta out of the rice the best.
This is a great time to use words like full/empty, scoop/pour, and in/out.
When the fun is over, fold up the shower liner and shake it out outside. Make sure to do it on a day you were planning to sweep anyway. =)