Multi-Function Activity Table by Dr. Lilli Nielsen


The Multi-Function Activity Table (MFAT) is designed to allow the learner (child or adult) to initiate a large variety of cognitive activities while sitting on the floor, or in a chair, or wheelchair.

Technical Information

A young man plays at a Multi-Functional Activity Table.
A young man plays at a Multi-Functional Activity Table.

The MFAT is designed in such a way that the tabletop can be set at various heights to accommodate two extremes: a learner seated on the floor and an adult seated in wheelchair.

The table top of the MFAT has three interchangeable parts, and is delivered with six different surfaces: three fitted with plastic containers, one covered with Velcro on one side and a plastic tray on the other, one covered with a metal board on the one side and ordinary plywood covering on the other. In one part are several small holes to which objects can be tied.

A part fitted with three plastic containers hinges at the back edge of the table. This can be placed horizontally to extend the tabletop, or vertically as a shelf with three compartments. The containers can be used as a depot for supplying materials or into which objects can be pushed, placed and regained. When the three containers are in vertical position they can be used as shelves for storing materials or for “putting things where they belong.”


The MFAT allows the learner to use the entire surface as a perceptual field. It also provides for a great variety of arrangements as learning environments. According to what the mediator has placed on the tabletop and in the containers, the learner can choose those objects and the materials he wants to play with. Mobile learners, who can collect the materials necessary for a certain activity from elsewhere, can place these items in the order that fits best for a particular activity. The different tabletops and shelf, and a multiplicity of objects provide enriched perceptual fields, promoting the development of manipulative skills and spatial perception, and the higher order skills of selection, integration, organization, categorization and symbolization. Some of the parts of the tabletop are treated to allow for activities with water, paint, yogurt, etc.

The learner who has reached the developmental level at which he commences to place some objects at a certain spot, needs to practice this skill further by placing objects in specific positions in relation to his own body: next to him, in front of him, behind him, close to him, in different containers, and later to place objects in relation to each other: on a row, close together, further apart, on top of each other, underneath something, in a colorful pattern, etc. The MFAT is a very useful instrument to enhance all these, and more learning activities.

When the learner leaves spontaneously or is taken away from the MFAT, either because it is time for a meal or for going home, or for other reasons, the adult (teacher, assistant, or parent) should refrain from changing the composition or creation the learner has developed. This will allow the learner to return to something he or she has done, and so recognize it and the relationship between the objects, and learn that objects continue to exist even if he moves away from them, turns his back to them, or is eating or sleeping, and that they are to be found where he placed them (object permanence). This will give the learner the opportunity to change his product, just like an artist or an author won’t start from the beginning every day, but rather return to his unfinished painting or manuscript. The artist will observe his painting, correct a little here and there; add a color or a figure. The author will re-read what she has written, correct and add until she is satisfied with her work. Only then he or she will be ready to put it all away, ready to start on a new challenge. The learner using the MFAT needs to continue his work, and so discover his product as worthy, and finally consider it to be completed, ready to be put aside for creating something new and exciting.

But should not the learner learn to tidy up? Yes, that is just what he will become motivated for when it becomes meaningful for him to find a certain object for a new construction.


Regular activities while using the MFAT

    • Improves the learner’s creative capabilities,
    • Enlarges his or her object concept,
    • Enhances his knowledge about which objects can be separated, piled, and put together,
    • Gives opportunity to become familiar with many different kinds of material,
    • Facilitates the learning of playing constructively,
    • Enhances the ability to solve problems.

When the MFAT is equipped according to the learner’s developmental level it will promote the learner’s motivation for comparing objects and the results of his activities, memory and, the ability to solve problems.

Achievement of consciousness (level of attention, concentration) about things, events, and persons occurs if the brain continually has something to process. All along the surroundings must allow for new detail to be perceived so that the activities always are arousing (interesting and exciting) and expanding the learner’s consciousness. If the surroundings become too monotonous and without the necessary challenges, the learner’s activity will be automatic, the level of consciousness decline, and learning is minimal.

The MFAT enhances the replacement of cocoon-like behavior with exploratory activity, and therefore raises the learning curve substantially.

Exploring Shapes Using a Multi-Functional Activity Table

Description: A student from Narbethong State Special School in Queensland Australia uses a Multi-Functional Activity Table (MFA Table).


Multi-function activity table collage