This tutorial presents an introduction to the contemporary linguistic framework known as optimality theory (OT). The basic assumptions of this constraint-based theory as a general model of grammar are first outlined, with formal notation being defined and illustrated. Concepts unique to the theory, including "emergence of the unmarked," are also described. OT is then examined more specifically within the context of phonological acquisition. The theory is applied in descriptions of children's common error patterns, observed inter- and intrachild variation, and productive change over time. The particular error patterns of fronting, stopping, final-consonant deletion, and cluster simplification are considered from an OT perspective. The discussion concludes with potential clinical applications and extensions of the theory to the diagnosis and treatment of children with functional phonological disorders.