For all intensive purposes your kitchen table or desk will serve you good in doing the exercises for this course. Though I will give you a little overview of the various types of animation tables.
Pre-Made Animation Table:
There are a number of suppliers of pre-made animation tables. These are great alternatives to building your own table since they are designed to be stable and give you the most flexibility in scaling. They are typically to be used on a table that already exists like your desk or kitchen table. They are also extremely portable.
Handmade Tables / Stages:
If you are filming a large production you will typically need to build your own table. Most of these tables are designed out of wood but in many professional environments they have moved to using steel as their base with removable wood tops. MDF or wood composite panels are usually used as the tops for these stages. They typically are very strong but also very heavy.
Down Shooter setups are fairly simple. You just need a secure way to suspend the camera over the table. C-Stands actually make a great option for those who have the money to buy such a system. You can also build your own down shooter using either wood or metal. Some people even use glass shelving kits from IKEA to produce a cheap alternative. One method for many people is to do a sudo set-up using a tripod leaning against a table and angled at a 45 degree toward a board that is propped up at a parallel to the cameras lens. This is a very cheap and easy way to simulate a downshooter setup. You can also purchase what is called a Rostrum for a little over $100usd. They are probably the easiest way to achieve both the look and control that downshooter setups can provide.